The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday finalized a new rule that doubles the annual salary threshold for receiving overtime pay to $47,476. The White House estimates that will provide overtime pay to an additional 4.2 million workers, leaving business owners wondering how they will foot the bill for the change or keep employees from racking up extra hours.
The new overtime regulations are rather uncomplicated as a matter of law but there are major business and employee relations considerations when it comes to implementation.
Let’s begin with the law. Generally:
- The minimum salary will be $913 per week. As noted, that is double what the number was under the 2004 regulations, $455 per week.
- While the increase is substantial, for the first time, an employer may include some compensation other than salary to meet the minimum salary. More specifically, employers can include non-discretionary bonuses, incentive payments and commissions to satisfy up to 10 percent of the minimum weekly salary.
- The minimum salary will be adjusted every three years. The DOL had proposed every year.
- There will be no changes to the primary duty test. The DOL had, by the questions it asked in its proposed rule, suggest it might move to a percentage test, as is the case in California. Instead, the test remains the same: primary means main, principal or most important.
- The regulations go into effect on December 1, 2016. So employers have about six months to prepare.
The big question that employer will need to decide with exempt employees making below the minimum salary is whether to raise their salaries or to convert them to non-exempt. Among a much longer list, here are eight questions that every employer should ask itself in making that business decision.
- How will I get the work done? Exempt employees can work anywhere and anytime. And, most do. If you need that kind of flexibility, that may argue in favor of increasing salary rather than converting to non-exempt.
- How do I allow an employee I convert from exempt to non-exempt to work remotely without ending up with an off the clock case? Even if you don’t need an employee to perform substantial work remotely or you cannot afford the minimum salary increase, the now non-exempt employee still likely will need to perform some work remotely. We need to deal with it by developing guard rails to limit, capture and pay for all such work. The on-off switch with regard to remote work may need to become a dimmer.
- How are similarly situated employees being treated? Converting employees from exempt to non-exempt will produce different reactions. Some may be thrilled—the potential for overtime. Others may be less happy—they see it as a demotion. Make sure you have business reasons for whom you convert to non-exempt and document same to defend potential discrimination claims by those who are upset, one way or the other.
- How are you going to communicate with employees whom you are converting from exempt to non-exempt? This is critical. As just noted, some will see this as a demotion. You need to explain that the change is driven by legal considerations and nothing changes the value you place on what the employee does for you.
- How are you going to ensure that exempt employees don’t get killed as you move work from the newly converted non-exempt to them to avoid paying overtime? Many exempt employees making well above the minimum salary work day and night. There is a breaking point. Provide them with even more work and, at a minimum, this may produce resentment. If they become sufficiently unengaged on enraged, they may leave. Yes, Virginia, millennial employees are not the only ones who want a life, too.
- What do you do with employees who are above the minimum salary when you raise the salaries of others below it so they remain non-exempt? Raising the salaries of higher paid employees may be costly. But not raising their salaries may have a heavy employee relations cost. “So he gets a $4,000 raise and makes only $1.000 less than I do even though I have been here for 5 more years with great reviews.” A lot of tough calls will have to be made. And, remember, it is not “all or nothing.” Be creative.
- How do you train your managers on how to deal with those converted from exempt to non-exempt? The question provides the answer. Don’t forget the training. If you ask the now non-exempt employee to do something as she is walking out the door, tell her to log back in and pay her for the extra time. It is a little more complicated legally but you get the drift, I hope.
- How do I budget? Plan for more overtime as a result of conversions, unless you want to have unhappy or lose customers or clients. Educate your financial team of the new normal so that they can be partners and not impediments.
And, that’s just for starters. Having fun, yet?