Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Revokes Obama-Era DOL Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Guidance

On June 7, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is withdrawing two major pieces of informal guidance issued during the Obama administration, pertaining to joint employment and independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.

The two Administrator Interpretations Letters were issued by the former head of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, David Weil. The first guidance letter, Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1, took an aggressive position regarding misclassification of employees as independent contractors. It stressed that the “economic realities” of worker-employer relationships were paramount—i.e., whether, as a matter of economic reality, a worker was dependent on the putative employer—and suggested that most workers should be classified as employees. Although it relied on case law, the Administrator Letter provided additional refinements and, significantly, de-emphasized consideration of “control”—a major element under most common law tests.

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Resolving Split, Second Circuit Denies FLSA-NYLL Liquidated Damages Double Recovery

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit resolved a split among the four New York district courts regarding whether a plaintiff can recover cumulative liquidated damages awards under both the Fair Labor Standards Act (federal law) and the New York Labor Law (state law) for the same wage and hour violation.  In Chowdhury v. Hamza Express Food Corp., 2016 WL 7131854 (2d Cir. Dec. 7, 2016), the Court held that a plaintiff cannot receive double recovery.  The decision will have a significant practical impact on wage and hour litigation.

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National Preliminary Injunction Blocks New FLSA Salary Test from Taking Effect on December 1, 2016

A federal court issued a national preliminary injunction prohibiting the Department of Labor’s new salary rule for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees from taking effect. The final rule, published on May 23, 2016 would have gone into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. We wrote about this previously and at this time, recommend that employers suspend, but not cancel their implementation plans.

The rule mandated that employees falling under the executive, administrative or professional exemptions must earn at least $913 per week ($47,476 annually), which would more than double the currently existing minimum salary level of $455 per week. In State of Nevada v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 4:16-cv-731 (E.D. Tex. filed November 22, 2016) District Court Judge Amos L. Mazzant III (appointed by President Obama) ruled that the Department of Labor cannot impose the new salary requirement as a condition of exempt status of executive, administrative or professional (“EAP”) employees because the plain language of the Fair Labor Standards Act focuses on the duties of exempt EAP employees, and not their level of pay.

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Ruling Postponed on Whether the DOL Exemption Rules will be Enjoined Before December 1, 2016

Since our November 10 Post, Will the DOL Exemption Rules Be Enjoined Before December 1, 2016?, federal District Court Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III heard nearly 3.5 hours of argument today on the Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction to stop nationwide implementation of the Department of Labor’s May 16, 2016 Final Rule Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees.  If not enjoined, this Final Rule will require that, by December 1, 2016, employees be paid a weekly salary of at least $913 (annually, $47,476) to maintain “white collar” exemption from overtime and other federal Fair Labor Standards Act requirements, as long as the employees’ duties satisfy the exemption rules too.

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Will the DOL Exemption Rules Be Enjoined Before December 1, 2016?

The Department of Labor’s May 16, 2016 Final Rule Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees require that, by  December 1, 2016, employees must be paid a weekly salary of at least $913 (annually, $47,476) to maintain “white collar” exemption from overtime and other federal Fair Labor Standards Act requirements, as long as the employees’ duties satisfy the exemption rules too.  We wrote about this previously.

Last month, twenty-one states, led by Nevada and Texas, filed an emergency motion to enjoin implementation of the Final Rule in a federal court action commenced the month before.  State of Nevada, et al. v. DOL (USDC, Eastern District of Texas, case No., 4:16-cv-00731-ALM).  At its core, the action challenges DOL authority to increase the salary threshold and set automatic increases, and whether the Final Rule infringes on state government employer’s sovereignty.  This blog post does not analyze the merits of this action, but instead updates our clients and friends on its status given that we are now just a few weeks away from December 1.

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A Bill Prohibiting Questions About Past Compensation Introduced In Congress

On September 14, 2016, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – D.C. At Large) introduced the Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 (the “PEAA”) in the U.S. House of Representatives.   In relevant part, the PEAA would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., to prohibit employers from asking prospective employees about their previous wages or salary histories, including benefits or other compensation.  In addition to prohibiting these pre-hire inquiries, the PEAA prohibits employers from seeking out the information on their own.  The PEAA prohibits employers from retaliating against any employee or applicant because the employee opposed any practice unlawful under the law or for testifying or participating in any investigation or proceeding relating to any act or practice made unlawful by the PEAA.  Any “person” who violates the PEAA is subject to a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first “offense,” which increases by $1,000 for each subsequent offense, up to $10,000.  In addition, any person violating the PEAA is liable to each employee or prospective employee who is subject to a violation for special damages not to exceed $10,000 plus attorneys’ fees, as well as potential injunctive relief.

In her introductory remarks, Representative Norton explained that the purpose of the PEAA was to “help eliminate the gender and racial pay gap” and to “ensure that applicants’ salaries are based on their skills and merit, not on a potentially problematic salary history.” The bill initially was co-sponsored by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), Jerrold Nadler (D – NY), and Jackie Speier (D – CA); subsequent co-sponsors include Representatives Gwen Moore (D – WI), John Conyers, Jr. (D – MI), Barbara Lee (D – CA), and Frederica S. Wilson (D – FL).  The PEAA was immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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