The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) agenda specifies that its final overtime regulations are due to be published in July, but recent developments suggest they may be released a few months earlier.  With the salary threshold for the white collar exemptions going up from the current $23,660 to over $50,000 per year, employers need to prepare now for the changes.

DOL’s Overtime Rule Sent To OMB

On March 15, 2016, the DOL sent its proposed final overtime regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which is the final step before the rule can be published. The OMB review process typically takes one to two months, but speculation suggests that the review of this rule may be sped up to allow for publication as early as April or May.

The political environment in Washington, D.C. and fact that this is an election year may be to blame for the expedited process. The Congressional Review Act (Act) provides Congress with 60 legislative days to review any final rule issued by a federal agency. If Congress disapproves of the regulation, which current Republicans in Congress are sure to do with the overtime rule, it may pass a resolution to nullify the rule. The President can veto that resolution, but then Congress has the opportunity to override the veto by a two-thirds vote.

Because of an unusual provision in the Act, any new rule that is not submitted to Congress within 60 session days of the adjournment of the Senate or House, may be subject to a renewed review by the new Congress in the next Congressional session (with potential veto by a newly elected President). Or, if Congress’s 60-day-review period extends after the presidential inauguration, the new President may let a resolution of disapproval stand, killing the rule. The Obama Administration will not want to take the chance that a new Congress and/or President gets to review the overtime rule in 2017 so it is expected that the White House will do everything possible to get the new overtime rule to Congress prior to the cutoff date.

Salary Threshold For Exemptions Will More Than Double

The DOL’s proposed rule raises the salary threshold for the white collar exemptions from the current $455 to an expected $970 per week, more than doubling the annual salary level to more than $50,000. The salary threshold for the highly compensated employee exemption will increase from the current $100,000 to more than $122,000 per year. The DOL estimates that almost five million U.S. workers who are currently exempt will be entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation under the new salary level requirements. In addition, the final rule will include an automatic annual adjustment provision that will require that the salary thresholds be adjusted each year to keep up with inflation.

Next Steps

With a compressed timeline for the new rule to become effective, employers need to take steps now to decide how to handle employees who no longer qualify as exempt under the new rules. Some companies may choose to increase exempt employee salaries to meet the new threshold in order to retain the exemption. Others may choose instead to change the status of some workers’ status to non-exempt and pay them overtime. Either way, employers need to get a plan in place to prevent headaches and potential wage claims when the final rule goes into effect.