DOL Exemption Rules to Take Effect December 1, 2016

Making good on a 2014 directive from President Obama “to modernize and streamline” existing overtime regulations, the Department of Labor (DOL) today published its highly anticipated Final Rule Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees. As expected, the Final Rule (which becomes effective December 1, 2016 ) more than doubles the current $455 weekly minimum salary required for employees to qualify for “white collar” exemptions to the minimum wage and overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The DOL expects its new Final Rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to more than 4.2 million Americans and increase employee wages by $12 billion over the next 10 years.

Key Changes under the DOL’s Final Rule

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid minimum wage for all worked hours and overtime at a rate not less than one and one-half their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a single workweek. To qualify for exemption from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements, an employee must be paid a predetermined minimum weekly salary (not subject to reduction based on variations in quality or quantity of work) and primarily perform certain job duties qualifying for one or more of the standard executive, professional or administrative “white collar” exemptions to the FLSA.

In June 2015 the DOL issued a Proposed Rule which gave employers a preview of the likely revisions to the exemption regulations. Today’s Final Rule differs from the DOL’s 2015 Proposed Rule in certain key areas.

Significant changes under the DOL’s Final Rule include the following:

Increase in the Salary Basis Requirement.

The Final Rule increases from $455 to $913 (or $47,476 annually) the minimum weekly salary level necessary for employees to qualify for a white collar exemption under the FLSA. This minimum weekly salary automatically will adjust every three years to a rate equaling the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the nation’s lowest-wage Census region (currently the South). Minimum salary adjustments under the Final Rule will be published at least 150 days before their effective dates, with the first adjustment being effective January 2020. The minimum salary increase in the Final Rule is slightly lower than that contemplated in the Proposed Rule, with the DOL citing to public comments expressing concerns that the regulations should account for salaries paid in lower cost-of-living regions.

Increase in the Salary Requirement for the Highly Compensated Employee (HCE) Exemption.

The Final Rule increases from $100,000 to $134,004 the minimum total annual compensation necessary for a “highly compensated employee” to qualify for exemption under the FLSA. This minimum annual compensation also automatically will adjust every three years to an amount equal to the 90th percentile of full-time salaried employees nationally. Although the compensation increase in today’s Final Rule is larger than contemplated in the Proposed Rule, the change simply is due to an increase in the 90th percentile threshold from 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014.

Automatic Triennial Updating.

The Proposed Rule contemplated updating the salary thresholds annually using either a wage index (i.e., a fixed-percentile approach using Current Population Survey data) or a price index (i.e., the CPI).  As noted above, the Final Rule has adopted the fixed-percentile approach, with updates to occur every three years rather than annually. Employers that submitted comments said they “strongly opposed” using a fixed-percentile method, arguing that it would result in the “ratcheting” of salaries – that is, with each successive salary update, employers would be expected to convert lower-earning exempt employees to hourly status; those employees would be removed from the CPS data; and the salary threshold would thus rapidly accelerate with each increase. The DOL largely discounted these concerns, finding a lack of historical evidence of “ratcheting” in analyzing data from the last salary increase in 2004. Nonetheless, the DOL did respond to employer comments that an annual update would be unduly volatile and would not provide sufficient notice, and instead adopted triennial updating.

Inclusion of Nondiscretionary Bonuses, Incentive Payments, and Commissions in the Salary Level Requirement.

Employers now will be allowed to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive pay to satisfy up to 10 percent of the DOL’s new salary standard, provided such bonuses/incentives are paid on at least a quarterly basis. Employers also will be able to “catch-up” by quarterly bonus and incentive payments the salary of any exempt employee that falls short of the minimum salary requirement by an amount of up to 10 percent.

Duties Tests.

Surprisingly, the DOL’s Final Rule makes no substantive changes to the standard duties tests required for the executive, administrative and professional exemptions. Although the DOL sought public comments on this issue, the DOL ultimately declined to adopt any changes to the standard duties tests.

Over the next six months, covered employers will need to review exempt positions to ensure compliance with DOL’s new standards. A few suggestions include:

Review Salary Minimums.

Employers may choose to increase the salaries of employees who fall below the DOL’s new $917 weekly minimum, or reclassify employees as nonexempt and take steps to ensure employees are paid a minimum wage and overtime premium in accordance with FLSA standards.

Review Employer Criteria for Establishing Exemption Status.

Employers can expect DOL enforcement initiatives in 2017 (and beyond) to focus on exemption status. Employers are well advised to use the DOL’s Final Rule as an opportunity to review the exemption classifications of all exempt positions to ensure compliance with FLSA standards.

Provide Education and Training to Key Employees.

Employers should consider investing in education and training of front-line managers and human resources representatives tasked with implementing new exemption standards. Employers also should consider development of a communication strategy and action plan for reclassification of affected employees.

Three Steps to Prepare for the Labor Department’s Proposed Rule on Paid Sick Leave

By Lynne Anderson

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed rule that requires federal contractors and subcontractors to provide workers with seven days of paid sick leave on an annual basis. The proposed rule, released on Feb. 25, was created in response to President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13706, which directed the DOL to issue and finalize regulations this year.

The proposed rule is projected to extend paid sick leave to more than 800,000 employees, 400,000 of which don’t currently receive any paid sick leave, within a five-year period, according to DOL estimates.

Although the DOL has extended the comments period on the proposed rule through April 12, employers and human resources professionals should start preparing for implementation. Here are three things companies can do to prepare:

1. Review and revise policies

HR professionals should compare their employer’s existing policies with the proposed rule to see where revisions are needed. Employers may find that the changes are not as drastic as expected, and they can plan for changes in existing policies to comply with the proposed rule.

For example, the proposed federal rule explains that existing sick leave policies can be used to satisfy the new requirements if they provide at least as much paid time off (i.e., 56 hours a year), and allow the employee to use the existing time off for the reasons covered by the new rule. Many employers likely already have similar policies in place, especially if they have employees in states and municipalities that currently require paid time off for attending to family illnesses, or if the employee has been a victim of domestic violence, including California, Connecticut, Philadelphia, New York City and Seattle, among others.

2. Track and evaluate employee reasons

Employers should also confirm that they are tracking the reasons why employees are taking time off from work. This is already important in terms of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and corresponding state laws, and will make it easier to comply with the record keeping obligations under the new law. We often find that records may inaccurately report that the employee took vacation when the time was actually taken due to an employee’s illness or to care for a sick family member.

3. Document and verify

The proposed rule allows employers to require certification from an employee’s health care provider attesting to the need for leave if the employee is/was absent for three or more consecutive full work days, as is done in the context of FMLA leave or when providing time off as a reasonable accommodation under disability laws. That will help to prevent any possible misuse of the benefit.

Existing leave laws and the proposed rule also require employees to give as much advance notice as practicable regarding the need for paid time off. Employers should require compliance with reasonable “call-out” policies to minimize the disruption caused by absences covered by applicable leave laws.

The future of paid sick leave

While it is possible that this proposed rule may not come to fruition following the presidential election in November, it is indicative of a larger national push for paid sick leave. We are seeing a trend towards allowing employees to use sick time for reasons covered by this proposed new rule, such as care of family members. We are also seeing a trend in employers adopting general ‘PTO’ or paid time off policies that combine days off for personal time, such as attending a child’s school function or a routine doctor appointment, with vacation time and sick time.

With many state and local governments already leaning towards adding paid sick leave benefits, it would be wise for federal contractors and subcontractors to review their policies and make sure they are in compliance with this proposed rule.

In FLSA Settlements, the Permissible Scope of Releases and Confidentiality Provisions May Be Broader Than You Think

By William R. Horwitz

Courts and the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) often refuse to approve Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) settlements: (1) in which the employee’s release of claims is not narrowly limited to wage claims; or (2) that seek to restrict public disclosure of the settlement terms. Because FLSA settlements are arguably only enforceable if approved by a court or the DOL, these conditions sometimes impede the ability of parties to resolve FLSA disputes. A recent court decision may offer a solution. In Lola v. Skadden, Arps, Meagher, Slate & Flom LLP, 2016 BL 29709 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2016), the Honorable Richard J. Sullivan, U.S.D.J., allowed the parties more leeway in resolving FLSA claims, adopting an approach likely to facilitate settlements.

Case Background

Plaintiff David Lola, an attorney, worked for a staffing agency that placed him at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where he performed document review work for 15 months. He later filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the staffing agency and the law firm (as joint employers), alleging that they had misclassified him as exempt under the FLSA and failed to pay him overtime when he worked more than 40 hours a week. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and as a putative collective action on behalf of other, “similarly-situated,” contract attorneys.

The parties ultimately negotiated a settlement agreement and submitted it to the Court for approval. The agreement provided that Lola and two other individuals who opted into the lawsuit (and plaintiffs’ attorneys) would receive a total of $75,000 in exchange for, among other things, dismissing the lawsuit, releasing claims against the defendants and limiting disclosure of the terms of the settlement.

Judge Sullivan approved the settlement, issuing a written decision to address the release of claims and confidentiality provisions of the parties’ agreement.

Release of Claims

Under the settlement, the plaintiffs agreed to waive both FLSA and non-FLSA claims against the defendants. Judge Sullivan observed that some courts “have refused to approve [FLSA] settlements with broad releases of claims, concluding that they conflict with the FLSA’s remedial purposes.” However, Judge Sullivan explained, “there is nothing inherently unfair about a release of claims in an FLSA settlement.” The Court concluded that the release of claims in this case “was the fair result of a balanced negotiation, in which Plaintiffs were represented by able counsel.” In reaching this conclusion, the Court highlighted these facts: (1) the release was mutual; (2) plaintiffs were not aware of any “actual, existing, or meritorious claims” that they were waiving; and (3) plaintiffs were not waiving any future claims. Under these circumstances, the Court determined that plaintiffs “could reasonably conclude that the provisions releasing claims were an acceptable compromise.”

Non-Disclosure of Settlement Terms

Judge Sullivan also observed that several courts have “rejected FLSA settlements containing confidentiality provisions that restrict plaintiffs’ ability to talk about the settlement.” The Court acknowledged that, “in certain cases, confidentiality provisions may excessively restrict plaintiffs’ ability to discuss settlements” and, therefore, undermine the purposes of the FLSA and the public interest in assuring that employees receive fair wages. According to the Court, however, the FLSA “imposes no per se bar on confidentiality provisions in settlements.” Instead, “the fairness of restrictions on the parties’ ability to disclose details of a settlement depends on the particular circumstances of any given case.” Under the circumstances in this case, the Court ruled that the restrictions were fair. Here, the agreement stated that plaintiffs and their counsel: “will not contact the media or utilize any social media regarding this Settlement or its terms” and, if contacted, they will respond, “no comment” or “[t]he matter has been resolved.”

Judge Sullivan reasoned that, in the absence of the non-disclosure provision, “Plaintiffs would be free to decline commenting on the case in response to any future inquiries by the press or otherwise” and, therefore, “it is difficult to see why they should be barred from adopting such a posture in advance of settling the matter.” The Court explained that, “since no one can force Plaintiffs to opine on the case in the future anyway, it is by no means irrational or improper for Plaintiffs to compromise words for dollars as part of a global, arms-length settlement” (emphasis in original). Given that a plaintiff is “allowed to accept less than the maximum potential recovery on the basis of litigation risk,” the Court explained that a plaintiff should also be permitted “to make nonmonetary concessions, such as minor restrictions on his right to comment on the case.” Again, the Court stressed, “this provision is the result of fair bargaining between well-represented parties and embodies a reasonable compromise that does not conflict with the FLSA’s purpose of protecting against employer abuses.” Notably, the settlement agreement was publicly-filed, so anyone interested in discovering its terms was free to do so. The parties simply limited the ability of plaintiffs to disclose them.

Conclusion

Employers sometimes litigate FLSA cases that they would rather settle, because they are concerned that a settlement will not ensure finality. Employers worry that a narrow release will not bar the plaintiff from filing another lawsuit after collecting the settlement payment or that the plaintiff may publicize the settlement, thereby encouraging copycat lawsuits. Judge Sullivan’s decision in Lola offers a potential solution for employers. Under the right circumstances, a settlement agreement can include a broad release of claims and the parties can agree to limit disclosure of the settlement terms.

EEOC and DOL Propose Increased Reporting Requirements for EEO-1 Reports

By Noreen Cull and Shavaun Adams Taylor

On the seventh anniversary of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”), announced a proposed rule to collect data from employers that will be used to identify discriminatory pay practices. Under the proposed rule, companies with 100 or more employees, both private employers and federal contractors, would be required to report wages from W-2 earnings and total hours worked for all employees by sex, race, and ethnicity within a 12-month period. It is projected that these new proposed requirements will affect over 63 million employees.

This proposed rule is now in the comment period until April 1, 2016. The EEOC also plans to conduct a public hearing regarding the new rule at some point. If things progress as expected, this rule becomes effective for the September 30, 2017 reporting period.

While the EEOC highlights that the proposed rule also is a benefit to employers because it assists employers “in evaluating their pay practices to prevent pay discrimination” and to avoid enforcement actions, there are legitimate concerns regarding how such data will be interpreted and used by government agencies. Some concerns include the strong likelihood of this data producing false positives and the ability to keep this information confidential.

Pay Data

Currently, the EEO-1 form collects data regarding the number of employees, along with their sex, race and ethnicity, in 10 specifically designated job categories. Under the proposed rule, an employer also would be required to report the number of employees by their sex, race, and ethnicity, within 12 specified pay bands in each of the 10 job categories. These pay bands track the 12 pay bands used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupation Employment Statistics survey. The specific pay bands are:

  • $19,239 and under;
  • $19,240 – $24,439;
  • $24,440 – $30,679;
  • $30,680 – $38,999;
  • $39,000 – $49,919;
  • $49,920 – $62,919;
  • $62,920 – $80,079;
  • $80,080 – $101,919;
  • $101,920 – $128,959;
  • $128,960 – $163,799;
  • $163,800 – $207,999; and
  • $208,000 and over.

The proposed new section of the EEO-1 form is available on the EEOC’s website (click here).

The pay data will be taken from employees’ total W-2 earnings for a 12-month period looking back from a pay period between July 1st and September 30th. The EEOC believes the benefit to using W-2 earnings is that it includes total earnings, including wages, salaries, and other compensation such as commissions, tips, taxable fringe benefits, overtime pay, shift differentials and bonuses. Also, the EEOC insists that using W-2s places the least amount of burden on an employer because this information is already gathered and most human resources information systems allow for calculations for any 12-month period, not just the calendar year.

A concern for employers is that there is no way to indicate on the EEO-1 form neutral factors, such as experience, education, or performance that might account for or explain any pay differentials. Accordingly, it is anticipated that this data may produce many false positives which will force employers to exert additional time and resources to defend their pay practices.

Total Number of Hours Worked

Under the proposed rule, an employer would also have to record the total number of hours worked by employees, broken down by sex, race, and ethnicity, in each pay band. The EEOC states that the reason for providing the number of hours worked is to take into account part-time or partial-year employees. Specifically, data on number of hours worked “will allow analysis of pay differences while considering aggregate variations in hours.”

As the rule is currently drafted, it is unclear how this information will achieve that purpose when it does not take into account factors which could skew results such as overtime hours, or other supplemental earnings like bonuses or commissions, which may be less due to part-time work. Another issue not addressed by the EEOC is how hours for salaried employees would be calculated. In fact, the EEOC acknowledges that it is not certain how to report hours worked for salaried employees and is requesting employer input on that issue.

Data Analysis

The EEOC states that it plans to use the pay data to: (1) assess complaints of discrimination; (2) focus agency investigations; and (3) identify existing pay disparities that may warrant further examination. The agency claims the information from the pay bands will be used to “compute within-job-category variation, across-job-category variation, and overall variation” to discern potential discrimination. The EEOC plans to develop statistical tools for staff to use on their computers so that they can conduct this type of analysis. The EEOC will also publish aggregate data so that employers can conduct their own analysis of their pay practices

Yet, the EEOC has not identified what statistical methodology it plans to use. Thus, it is not possible to assess whether the EEOC’s statistical analysis would hold up under judicial scrutiny or would be rejected by the courts.

Confidentiality Concerns

The EEOC does not guarantee that the pay data will be kept confidential and not subject to FOIA requests through both the EEOC and the DOL. Specifically, the EEOC states that Title VII forbids it from making public the EEO-1 data before a Title VII proceeding is instituted. As for OFCCP, it promises to keep the EEO-1 data confidential “to the maximum extent permitted by law, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act Exemption 4 and the Trade Secret Act.”

The EEOC attempts to counter any confidentiality concerns by claiming that since the data is provided in the aggregate and not on based on individual employees, there is no confidentiality issue. Aside from the fact that it’s really more of a privacy issue, that response underplays the importance that the compensation data could provide to competitors and ignores the free discovery that it would provide to the plaintiff’s bar by allowing access to this pay data.

Next Steps

Given the complexity of defending discriminatory pay claims, in preparation of the enactment of this new rule employers should conduct pay equity analysis to assess any issues prior to submitting any pay data. Additionally, companies affected by the proposed rule may wish to consider submitting comments.

Who’s The Boss? The Department of Labor’s Effort to Expand Joint Employer Liability Under the FLSA

By Kate S. Gold and Philippe A. Lebel

On January 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Wage and Hour Division issued an Administrator’s Interpretation (“Interpretation”) significantly expanding the definition of a “joint employer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. The DOL’s new approach, which relies in part on regulations promulgated under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act (“MSPA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801, shifts the focus of the analysis toward “economic realities.” If followed, the DOL’s approach potentially expands liability for wage and hour violations such as overtime pay to entities that do not directly employ workers, but that have contracted with third parties for labor.

In the introductory paragraphs of the Interpretation, the DOL implies its motive in promulgating the new standard is to protect a larger number of workers and to address purported efforts by employers to shield themselves from wage and hour liability using multi-tiered workforce structures. Although the Interpretation is not binding on courts, it may be cited as persuasive authority in litigation, and could significantly expand the number of companies subject to joint employer liability under the FLSA.

Two Types of Potential Joint Employer Arrangements

The Interpretation focuses on two types of potential joint employer relationships: (a) horizontal joint employment; and (b) vertical joint employment.

Horizontal joint employment “exists where the [putative] employee has employment relationships with two or more employers and the employers are sufficiently associated or related with respect to the employee such that they jointly employ the employee.” In the case of horizontal joint employment, there is typically an undisputed employer-employee relationship between each potential joint employer, individually, and the employee in question. For example, a horizontal joint employment scenario may exist for a waitress who works for two different restaurants that are owned by the same entity.

Vertical joint employment “exists where the employee has an employment relationship with one employer . . . and the economic realities show that he or she is economically dependent on, and thus employed by, another entity involved in the work.” In this type of potential joint employment arrangement, the putative joint employer is usually the (indirect) beneficiary of the employee’s work, contracted through an intermediary. However, unlike in the context of horizontal joint employment, the putative joint employer in a vertical joint employment inquiry would not have an admitted employment relationship with the putative employee. One example of this type of potential joint employment is a nurse placed at a hospital by a staffing agency.

Factors to Consider When Determining Whether Horizontal Joint Employment Exists

Relying largely on regulations and case law developed under the FLSA, the Interpretation identifies a number of non-exhaustive facts that should be considered in determining whether a horizontal joint employment relationship exists. They include:

  1. Who owns the potential joint employers (e., does one company own part or all of the other or do they have any common owners);
  2. Do the potential joint employers have any overlapping officers, directors, executives, or managers;
  3. Do the potential joint employers share control over operations, including hiring, firing, payroll, advertising, and/or overhead costs;
  4. Are the potential joint employers’ operations inter-mingled;
  5. Does one potential joint employer supervise the work of the other;
  6. Do the potential joint employers share supervisory authority for the employee;
  7. Do the potential joint employers treat the employees as a pool of employees available to both of them;
  8. Do the potential joint employers share clients or customers; and
  9. Are there any agreements between the potential joint employers.

The Interpretation states that the above factors need not all be present for a horizontal joint employment relationship to exist. However, if the employers are “acting entirely independently of each other and are completely disassociated” with respect to an employee, no horizontal joint employment relationship will exist. The central focus is the relationship between the two potential joint employers.

Vertical Joint Employment: A Major Departure

Before the Interpretation, various federal circuit courts had developed their own multifaceted tests for determining whether two employers could be liable as joint employers pursuant to the FLSA. Though the standards varied, a majority shared a common focus on the degree of putative employers’ control over the putative employees.

While the Interpretation continues to focus on control in the context of horizontal joint employment relationships, the DOL departed from that focus with respect to vertical joint employers. Under the new formulation, determining whether a vertical joint employment relationship exists is a two-part process. First, consideration must be given to whether the “intermediary employer” (either an individual or an incorporated entity) is an employee of the putative joint employer (e.g., is a farm labor contractor actually an employee of the grower, and not an independent contractor?). If so, “all of the intermediary employer’s employees are employees of the potential joint employer too, and there is no need to conduct a vertical joint employer analysis.”

If the intermediary employer is not an employee of the putative joint employer, focus shifts to the “economic realities” analysis. Control cannot be the predominant consideration – as it had been in the past. Rather, the “core question” is “whether the [putative] employee is economically dependent on the potential joint employer who, via an arrangement with the intermediary employer, is benefitting from the work” (emphasis added).

In determining whether there is the requisite degree of economic dependence, the Interpretation recites seven factors that developed under the MSPA – a law governing agricultural workers – based on regulations implemented almost 20 years ago:

  1. Whether and to what extent the work performed by the putative employee is controlled or supervised (directly or indirectly) by the putative joint employer beyond a reasonable degree of contract performance oversight.
  2. Whether the putative joint employer controls the employment conditions, including whether the putative joint employer has the authority to hire or fire the employee, modify employment conditions, or determine the rate or method of pay.
  3. The degree of permanency and duration of the relationship, taking into consideration the industry in which the relationship exists.
  4. The extent to which the putative employee’s work for the putative joint employer is repetitive and rote, is relatively unskilled, and/or requires little or no training.
  5. Whether the work performed by the putative employee is an integral part of the putative employer’s business.
  6. Whether the work is performed on the putative joint employer’s premises. (It is immaterial whether the putative joint employer leases as opposed to owns the premises where the work is performed, so long as the putative employer controls the premises.)
  7. Whether and to what extent the putative joint employer performs administrative functions for the employee, such as handling payroll, providing workers’ compensation insurance, providing necessary facilities and safety equipment, housing, or transportation, or providing tools and materials required for the work.

The Interpretation notes that some previous judicial standards focused only or primarily on factors relevant to the putative employer’s level of control (e.g., ability to hire and fire, supervision of the work, determining method and rate of pay). But the Interpretation takes the position that a limited, control-dominated analysis is inconsistent with “the breadth of employment under the FLSA.”

The result of the DOL’s broad, economic-driven approach may be that many companies that have contracted with third-party staffing providers will find themselves swept within the ambit of the FLSA if the Interpretation’s seven-factor analysis is applied. For example, the analysis above may result in a finding of a joint employment relationship where two entities are entirely economically dependent, but share little or no control over the putative employees. Note that the DOL’s new standard departs from many of the state common law formulations of the joint employer relationship, which may be more lenient for employers. On the other hand, some states, like California, have already expanded the scope of joint employer liability through the use of statutes imposing liability on customers of labor contractors. See, e.g., Cal. Lab. Code § 2810.3.

Takeaways

The Interpretation is not binding on courts, but may, nonetheless, be regarded (and cited) as persuasive authority, and will certainly guide the DOL’s own approach to potential joint employment enforcement under the FLSA. Although the Interpretation arguably does not alter the analysis for potential horizontal joint employment, it significantly changes the analysis for potential vertical joint employment. Accordingly, companies using third-party labor providers should carefully examine their risk of potential vertical joint employment liability, with an eye on the seven factors above. Unlike in the past, the focus should be on the level of economic dependence, as opposed to just control.

In addition to exploring restructuring of relationships with third-party labor providers, companies may wish to consider adding terms to contracts with labor providers entitling the companies to guarantees of wage and hour compliance, and providing the companies the right to audit labor providers’ compliance with wage and hour law. To further mitigate risk under the DOL’s new standard, companies may consider including indemnification provisions in agreements with third-party labor providers.

The DOL Announces Final Rule for the Obama Administration’s 2014 Pay Transparency Executive Order

As we’ve previously covered here, on April 8, 2014 President Obama signed Executive Order 13665 (“Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information), at an event commemorating National Equal Pay Day, an annual public awareness event that aims to draw attention to the gender wage gap. On September 10, 2015, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) announced the Final Rule implementing the Order, which will take effect on January 11, 2016.

In its press release announcing the Final Rule, the DOL highlighted its intent to specifically address the gender pay gap, stating that “a culture of secrecy keeps women from knowing that they are underpaid, and makes it difficult to enforce equal pay laws. Prohibiting pay secrecy policies and promoting pay transparency helps address the persistent pay gap for women . . .”

The Final Rule seeks to promote pay transparency by, among other things:

  1. Revising the Equal Opportunity Clause included in covered federal contracts to include a provision prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants for discussing or disclosing their or their co-workers’ compensation;
  2. Requiring covered contractors to notify employees and applicants of these nondiscrimination protections in existing policies;
  3. Enabling employees and job applicants who believe they have been discriminated against for discussing or inquiring about pay to file discrimination complaints with the OFCCP.

The Final Rule outlines two defenses that a contractor may assert where a violation of the nondiscrimination requirement is alleged. The first is a “general defense” that the contractor “disciplined the employee for violation of a consistently and uniformly applied company policy . . . [which] does not prohibit, or tend to prohibit, employees or applicants from discussing or disclosing their compensation or the compensation of other employees or applicants.” The second is the “essential job functions” defense, which essentially permits a contractor to take action against an employee (such as a Human Resources Director) whose job duties and functions necessarily entail access to compensation information, and who discloses such information other than in response to a formal complaint, charge, investigation, or proceeding.

The Obama administration has in the past few years issued multiple orders or memoranda to accelerate change in employment-related areas it believes are within the authority of the Executive Branch, without the need for legislation. As described in more detail here, there is an often lengthy rule-making process required for these mandates to become effective law, but the DOL is close to (or has) announced Final Rules on many of the administration’s proposals. Accordingly, employers should be aware that many of the prospective regulatory changes discussed in the past few years are, in the near future, set to become reality.