On January 8, 2018, the United States Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari seeking to overturn the Fourth Circuit’s new joint employer test under the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, employers will continue to be faced with differing joint employer standards in the various federal circuits.
On Friday, January 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) posted a brief statement and updated its Fact Sheet on Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act to clarify that going forward, it will use the “primary beneficiary” seven factor test for distinguishing bona fide interns from employees under the FLSA. The DOL’s approach is consistent with the test adopted by appellate courts such as the Second and Ninth Circuits.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking to repeal a 2011 rule that significantly impacted the compensation of hospitality workers. Specifically, the NPRM proposes to allow hospitality employers to control the distribution of the tips they pool assuming their employees are paid the full minimum wage. By way of background, the FLSA requires employers to pay employees a minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) plus overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a single workweek. Employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips” must still receive the minimum wage, but employers may elect to take a “tip credit” by counting up to $5.12 per hour of those employees’ tips toward the minimum wage, meaning employers may pay a reduced wage of $2.13 to tipped employees. Historically, employers that take the tip credit have been prohibited from sharing money from a tip-pooling system to employees who do not traditionally receive direct tips (cooks, dish washers, etc.). In 2011, the DOL extended the tip-pooling prohibition to apply to employers even if they do not take the tip credit and pay their employees the full federal minimum wage.
On August 31, 2017, a federal district court judge in Texas struck down the Department of Labor’s Obama-era controversial 2016 rule that raised the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar” exemption. Under the proposed regulations, the minimum salary threshold was raised to just over $47,000 per year, and increased the overtime eligibility threshold for highly compensated workers from $100,000 to about $134,000.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently held in Marlow v. The New Food Guy, Inc. that an employer that pays its employees a set wage over the minimum wage can retain tips for itself and does not have to share them with employees. No. 16-1134 (10th Cir. June 30, 2017).
The New Food Guy, Inc., a Colorado company doing business as Relish Catering, employed Bridgette Marlow to provide catering services. Relish paid Marlow a base wage of $12 an hour and $18 an hour for overtime. Although this was well above the $7.25 federal minimum required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Marlow sued Relish because it did not increase her wage with a share of the tips paid by customers. Relish moved for a judgment on the pleadings and the United States District Court for the District of Colorado held in its favor. After failing to get the Colorado court to reconsider the judgment, Marlow appealed.
The U.S. Department of Labor continues to work towards dismantling the Obama administration’s overtime rule, saying that it intends to revise the controversial rule to lower the salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s white-collar exemptions. The Obama administration’s rule sought to more than double the current salary requirement of $23,660 a year for white-collar exemptions. Though the rule was estimated to make 4 million additional workers eligible for overtime pay, it was also expected to cause employers significant financial and regulatory burdens.
One of the most controversial regulatory actions from the US Department of Labor during the Obama administration was the DOL’s regulation significantly increasing the salary level under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s white-collar exemptions. The regulation sought to more than double the current salary requirement of $23,660 per year, and it included an automatic updating requirement that would have accelerated future salary level increases at a rate well above the rate of inflation.
Recently, we discussed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the District Columbia that considered whether a former employee’s failure to initially list an employment discrimination claim on her bankruptcy schedules barred her from pursuing the claim against her former employer under the doctrine of judicial estoppel.
The United States Supreme Court has granted consolidated review of three cases to determine whether arbitration agreements that waive employees’ rights to participate in a class action lawsuit against their employer are unlawful. The Court’s decision to address the uncertainty surrounding class action waivers of employment claims follows a circuit split last year in which the Fifth and Eighth circuits upheld such waivers and the Seventh and Ninth circuits found that such waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act. Given the increasingly widespread use of class action waivers by employers to stem costly class and collective actions, the high court’s ruling is likely to have a significant nationwide impact.
Much has been written about the National Labor Relations Board’s controversial Browning-Ferris decision that significantly expanded the scope of joint employer liability under the National Labor Relations Act. But virtually no attention has been given to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent panel decision in Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, Inc., No. 15-1915 (4th Cir. 2017), which creates an altogether new and incredibly broad joint employment standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act that makes the NLRB’s Browning-Ferris joint employment standard seem temperate at best. Absent a successful appeal to the US Supreme Court or Department of Labor intervention, the Salinas decision could open the floodgates to joint employment FLSA litigation and liability within the Fourth Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina) and beyond.