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Tip of the Month: Implement a Payroll Deductions Policy to Take Advantage of the FLSA “Safe Harbor”

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Last month’s Tip of the Month reminded employers that communicating and maintaining an overtime policy can minimize liability for unauthorized overtime hours. This month, we focus on a second way employers can protect against wage and hour liability: the inclusion of a payroll deductions policy to take advantage of the “safe harbor” protection against liability for misclassification of employees based on the failure to pay employees on a salary basis.

As you recall, to be exempt from overtime, an employee must be performing duties recognized as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and must be paid on a “salary basis.” To be paid on a “salary basis” the employee must receive a predetermined amount of compensation each pay period (at least $455/week) which cannot be reduced due to variations in the quality or quantity of the employee’s work. An exempt employee must receive the full salary for any week in which the employee performs any work, subject only to certain limited deductions.

Employers jeopardize employees’ exempt status by making improper deductions from salaries. A payroll deductions policy which meets certain requirements provides employers with the opportunity to reduce overtime liability which might otherwise accrue under the FLSA if improper deductions are made and employees are therefore found to be inappropriately treated as exempt.

A payroll deduction policy only provides a safe harbor if the employer: (1) has a “clearly communicated” policy prohibiting improper deductions, including a complaint mechanism; (2) reimburses employees for any improper deductions; and (3) makes a good faith commitment to comply in the future. The safe harbor is not effective where the employer willfully violates the policy by continuing to make improper deductions after receiving employee complaints.

A good payroll deduction policy should include an explanation of how exempt employees will be paid on a salary basis, with only limited deductions for certain reasons permitted by law, including for social security, taxes, participation in company-sponsored benefit and retirement plans, absence from work for one or more full days taken in compliance with the company’s sickness or disability policy, absence from work which is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, absence due to certain types of suspensions, and full or partial days not worked during the initial or terminal week of employment.

For more information on implementing or reviewing a payroll deductions policy, contact a member of the Employment Group.

Employers Should Maintain and Enforce Overtime Policies

March 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Both Federal and Massachusetts law require that employers pay their non-exempt employees overtime wages whenever employees work more than 40 hours in a workweek. The law requires that employers pay overtime when they knew or should have known that the employee worked more than 40 hours. As a result, employers can be liable for overtime hours which they did not specifically authorize. Employers can minimize this liability by establishing an overtime policy and a mechanism for requesting and reporting overtime.

Overtime policies should include: who is eligible for overtime; what, if any conditions apply to the authorization of overtime; a specific mechanism for employees to request authorization to work overtime; and a specific mechanism for employees to report overtime hours which have been worked. Any policy should be clearly and conspicuously communicated to employees, and consistently enforced. Managers should not, under any circumstances, instruct employees to falsely record time or avoid reporting overtime hours worked.

Maintaining an overtime policy will not only result in transparent workplace expectations but it could also help an employer defend against an expensive wage and hour claim. In Vitali v. Reit Management and Research, LLC, SUCV2012-00588-BLS1 (Mass Super. June 2, 2014), a Massachusetts employee claimed she had worked through her lunch regularly and as a result often worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, entitling her to overtime. However, her employer had an overtime policy in place which required advanced approval for working overtime, as well as mechanisms for reporting overtime hours, which the employee had not followed despite her familiarity with the policy. The employee presented no evidence that management knew that the employee was working through lunch. Because the employer had clearly communicated rules and policies in place, and because the employee had failed to follow them, the employee was not able to maintain her claim for unpaid wages and the employer escaped a potentially expensive claim.

For more information on overtime policies, please contact a member of our Employment Law Group.

Massachusetts Employers Must Provide Meal Breaks

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

The common practice of working through lunch can result in a violation of the Massachusetts meal break law. Employers are required by law to allow any employee who works more than six hours a day an unpaid and unfettered meal break of at least thirty minutes. This law applies to exempt and non-exempt employees alike. It does not, however, apply to employees who work in certain industries, including the iron, glass, print, bleach, dye, paper and letterpress industries.

To qualify as a meal break, an employee must be unrestricted for a full thirty minutes. The employee must have the freedom to leave the workplace if he or she so desires and the employee must be entirely relieved from performing job duties during the break. Otherwise, the employer must compensate the employee for his or her time.

Employees can choose to waive this break, and to work through the allotted time-off, but the decision to do so must be voluntary. If an employee works through a break, either with or without the employer’s permission, then the break time becomes compensable. As a result, the employer will owe wages for all time worked by the employee, including the time originally set aside as a break, as well as any resulting overtime. To avoid liability, employers should establish, clearly communicate, and uniformly enforce a meal break policy.

For more information on this topic, please contact a member of the Employment Law Group.