MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES SCHEDULED FOR NEW YORK EMPLOYEES

Q.  My company conducts operations in several locations throughout New York State. What do I need to know about the upcoming minimum wage increases and new salary threshold requirements for our administrative and executive level employees?

A.  Employers in New York State should prepare to ring in the New Year with yet another increase in the minimum wage, as well as substantial increases in the salary thresholds for exempt executive and administrative employees. In 2016, as part of a sweeping overhaul of the state’s wage and hour law, the New York Department of Labor amended the rules to provide for annual increases across the spectrum of wages, with the third phase set to go into effect on December 31, 2018.

Minimum Wage Increases

The increases in the general minimum wage depend on the employer’s location and number of employees. For example, in New York City, the minimum wage requirement for employers with 11 or more employees will rise from $13 to $15 per hour, with no additional increases planned for the following years.  For New York City employers with fewer than 11 employees, the minimum wage will increase from $12 to $13.50, with an additional increase to $15 slated for December 31, 2019.

The minimum wage requirements increase more gradually for employers outside of New York City. In Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, employers must raise wages for hourly employees from $11 in 2018 to $12 in 2019.  Employers in all other counties are required to raise the minimum wage from $10.40 to $11.10 per hour.  These increases outside of New York City will continue at the same rate and on the same date annually, with the final increase effective December 31, 2021.  On that date, the statewide minimum wage settles at $15 per hour, regardless of the employer’s location or number of employees.

In addition, the law provides a separate schedule of increases for employees in the fast food industry. Effective December 31, 2018, New York City fast food workers must receive a minimum wage of $15 per hour, while those workers in the rest of the state will see incremental increases annually before arriving at the statewide $15 per hour minimum wage at the close of 2021.

Employers should note several points regarding these changes. First, the applicable minimum wage rate is based on where the employee works, rather than the location of the employer’s headquarters.  Notably, for employees working in more than one location, employers must pay wages based on the applicable rate for the location where a given hour is worked.  In those cases, the employer must record the location worked and the commensurate wage, although the law allows the employer to use a hybrid overtime rate based on the applicable rates for the different locations.

Increases to Salary Threshold for Exempt Status

In addition to changes to the minimum wage, employers must ensure that their employees classified as exempt under the executive or administrative exemption meet the new salary threshold for exempt status. For non-hourly executive and administrative employees, the minimum salary necessary to claim the overtime exemption will rise significantly, again depending on the employer’s size and location.  Regarding the location, it is thus far unclear whether the applicable salary threshold is determined by the location where the work is performed, or some other factor such as the location of the employer’s primary place of work.

Assuming the employee works in one location, on December 31, New York City employers with 11 or more employees must raise salaries for exempt employees from $975 per week in 2018 to $1,125 per week. Along the same timeline, for employers with fewer than 11 employees, the weekly salary threshold increases from $900 to $1,102.50.  In Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, the salary threshold for exempt status rises from $825 to $900 per week, with further increases yearly until salaried employees in those counties reach the $1,125 threshold in 2021.  For all other counties, the salary threshold increases from $780 to $832 per week at the end of this year, with two additional increases scheduled before arriving at $937.50 at year end 2020.

Employers with employees earning salaries that fall below the new threshold on the effective date have several options going forward. If feasible, the simplest solution for employers in most cases is to raise salaries for exempt employees up to the threshold.  Alternatively, to mitigate the financial burden of the new law, employers might consider reclassifying these employees as non-exempt, track hours worked, and pay them overtime for hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

Given the scope of these changes, every employer in New York should conduct a thorough analysis of its workforce to ensure compliance with the new laws and to assess the financial impact of these changes. For exempt workers earning salaries near the new threshold, employers should carefully analyze the particular circumstances in light of the options discussed above before deciding the most prudent course of action.  Finally, employers in counties outside New York City (and small employers in the City) should mark their calendars in preparation for additional increases annually over the next several years.

Rogers Stevens

 

MASSACHUSETTS IS ON THE RISE! Increases in the Minimum Wage and Establishment of a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program Strengthen Massachusetts’ Competitive Economic Environment

Q.  Are there any new laws in Massachusetts that my company should be aware of?

A.  Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently signed a bill that will serve as a turning point for working families. Referred to as the “Grand Bargain,” the bill represents a compromise among legislators, labor, community and business groups. The four main components of the bill will significantly impact all Massachusetts employers with at least one employee over the next five years.

Minimum Wage Increases

Currently, the Massachusetts minimum wage is $11 per hour. Under the new law, the minimum wage will increase incrementally to $15 per hour in 2023, tying New York, California and Washington, D.C. as having the highest statewide minimum wage in the country. Beginning January 1, 2019, the Massachusetts minimum wage will increase to $12 per hour, and will increase each year thereafter in $0.75 increments until 2023: $12.75 in 2020, $13.50 in 2021, $14.25 in 2022, and $15 in 2023. The Massachusetts current tipped minimum wage of $3.75 per hour will increase in $0.60 increments each year until it reaches $6.75 in 2023.

Premium Pay for Sunday Work and Work on Legal Holidays

Currently under Massachusetts law, employers must pay premium pay of 1.5 times the hourly rate for work performed on Sundays and Massachusetts’ legally-recognized holidays.  Under the new law, premium pay will be gradually phased out by 2023. Beginning January 1, 2019, workers will be paid 1.4 times their hourly rate as premium pay. The percentage will decrease annually by 10% until 2023, when workers will receive their regular hourly rate regardless of the day worked. Employers cannot require employees to work on Sundays or legally recognized holidays, nor can employees be punished for refusing to work on such days. Note: This decrease is for premium pay only, and is not to be confused with and does not relieve an employer of its obligation to pay one and one-half times an employee’s regular hourly rate for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a given work week.

Paid Family and Personal Medical Leave

Massachusetts will join New York, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington, D.C. in offering a paid family and medical leave program. Beginning in 2021, eligible employees will be permitted to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a sick family member or a newborn, up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid medical leave to attend to their own serious medical needs, and up to 26 weeks of job-protected paid family leave to care for a covered service member. However, an employee may only take a maximum of 26 weeks, in the aggregate, in a benefit year. Upon returning to work, employees must be restored to the same or equivalent positions held prior to taking leave. Employers will be required to post a notice regarding Paid Family and Personal Medical Leave, and newly hired employees must be provided with a notice of benefits within 30 days of their hire date. Note: Paid Family and Personal Medical Leave will run concurrently with leave taken under the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Additional Payroll Tax

The Massachusetts Paid Family and Personal Medical Leave Act will be financed through an additional 0.63% payroll tax, commencing July 1, 2019. Employers are required to deduct this additional tax from an employees’ wages and employers with more than 25 employees are responsible for contributing 60% of the contributions for personal medical leave. Note: Employers may elect to opt out of paying the employer portion of this payroll tax if they provide benefits that equal or exceed those provided by the Massachusetts Paid Family and Personal Medical Leave Program.

Rebecca Alperin

 

Using Employees’ Fingerprints for Timekeeping: Protecting Employee Data and Minimizing Risk

Q.  Can my Company institute a timekeeping system that uses fingerprints to track time?

A. Employers increasingly maintain timekeeping systems that require employees to clock in and out of work using their fingerprints to reduce the risk of coworkers clocking in for each other (so-called “buddy punching”) and to increase the accuracy of time reporting. Fingerprints are biometric data, and some employees fear that their data could be stolen or sold, leading to identity theft. The damage caused by identity theft is greater when biometric data is stolen because, unlike Social Security numbers or other personally identifiable information, an individual’s biometrics cannot be changed.

At present, there is no federal statute regulating employers’ use of employees’ biometric data, and just three states — Illinois, Texas and Washington — have laws that specifically regulate biometric privacy.1

For more information about this topic, click here.

Susan K. Lessack

 

PAID Program Provides a Way to Resolve Overtime and Minimum Wage Violations

Q.  I suspect that our company may have inadvertently committed overtime and minimum wage violations. Is there a way I can make this right without incurring substantial legal liability?

A.  Possibly. Earlier this year, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division announced the creation of a new nationwide pilot program called the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program. In short, the PAID program encourages employers to conduct payroll self-audits and, if they discover overtime or minimum wage violations, self-report those violations to the DOL and work with the DOL to rectify the problem and ensure employees are paid any wages owed.

Before reaching out to DOL in an effort to resolve any pay issues under PAID, employers must certify that they have read certain compliance materials about the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). After reviewing the compliance materials, employers can self-audit their payroll practices by themselves. While the materials on the DOL website about the PAID program do not address attorney involvement, a company may consider conducting a payroll audit under the direction of an attorney. One benefit of auditing payroll practices under the supervision of an attorney is the potential to keep confidential the legal analysis and conclusions from such an audit under the attorney-client privilege. However, if an employer chooses to resolve any wage and hour issues with the DOL through the PAID program, information collected in a payroll audit inevitably will need to be disclosed to the federal government.

The PAID program is not available to employers to resolve claims that are already being investigated or litigated. Further, if either DOL or a court has determined in the past five years that the employer has violated the FLSA by engaging in the same compensation practices at issue in the proposed PAID self-audit, an employer will be prohibited from participating in PAID.

The benefit of this program? After evaluating information provided to it, DOL can accept a company into the PAID program and then facilitate the payment of wages to employees in exchange for employees agreeing to release claims with regard to the particular FLSA violation at issue—all while the company avoids the payment of liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees. Companies typically cannot require employees to waive wage claims unless the process is supervised by a court or the DOL.

The major downside? Neither the employer nor the DOL can force an employee to sign a waiver and release of claims. Employees may opt to accept payment and sign a release of claims or they can decline to accept payment and then file a private lawsuit with the knowledge that its employer believes it may have violated the law. However, an employee may be reluctant to file a private lawsuit because of the likelihood that it would take many years and require the employee to incur the cost of both attorneys’ fees and litigation.

In addition, it is possible but not certain that the DOL may share this information with other agencies, resulting in further liability.   It also appears unclear whether the DOL will apply a two year or three year statute of limitations to employers who participate in the PAID program.

The PAID program’s impact on employee claims under state wage and hour laws is uncertain. According to the DOL website, DOL “may not supervise payments or provide releases for state law violations.”  Thus, even if an employee signs a release of claims while participating in the PAID program, the employee may not release claims under state law. As such, a state labor department or private plaintiff may still try to recover unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees if available under state or local law.

As a pilot program, much remains to be seen about how the PAID program will actually be implemented. There are perhaps just as many risks as there are benefits for an employee participating in the PAID program. If your company is interested in conducting an audit of its payroll practices, or exploring the possibility of participating in the PAID program, please contact any member of the Pepper Hamilton Labor & Employment group.

Lee Tankle

Supreme Court Upholds Validity of Employee Class Action Waivers

Q.  Can my company require its employees to sign an arbitration agreement mandating that they arbitrate all employment disputes, and limiting their ability to participate in a class action against the company?

A.  On May 21, in a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that arbitration agreements in which an employee waives the right to pursue his or her employment claims in a class or collective action are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The holding in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285, resolves a circuit court split on whether class action waivers in arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, rejecting three primary arguments made by employees to undermine the validity of class action waivers under the FAA.

For more information about this case, please click here.

-Tracey E. Diamond