HR Tip: DOL issues three opinion letters and fact sheet

After a long hiatus, the Department of Labor (DOL) has begun issuing opinion letters to assist employers and employees in interpreting laws.The first opinion letter, FLSA2018-18 addresses how employees without “normal working hours” should be compensated for travel time involving an overnight stay.

The letter provides two methods for determining an employee’s normal work hours and whether travel time is compensable. The employer may review the employee’s time records during the most recent month of regular employment and use the average start/end times during that time period. Employers also may negotiate with the employee or employee’s representative and agree to what constitutes the employee’s normal work hours.

The second letter addressed a situation in which an employee needs to take a 15-minute break every hour in an 8-hour workday due to a serious health condition (supported by medical certification). Most meal and rest break rules are governed by state law; federal law does not require meal or rest breaks for adult employees. However, for employers that offer short breaks (up to 20 minutes), the Fair Labor Standards Act does require employers to pay employees for that time and count that time as hours worked when calculating overtime pay.

In FLSA2018-19, the DOL clarifies that eight rest breaks given by an employer to accommodate an employee’s serious health condition predominantly benefit the employee and are not compensable as a result. However, these employees must be compensated for the same number of breaks taken by co-workers.

The third letter, CCPA2018-NA, considers whether certain lump-sum payments are considered “earnings” for purposes of the garnishment limitation in Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). The letter specifically analyzes 18 types of lump-sum payments and specifies that lump-sum payments for workers’ compensation, insurance settlements for wrongful termination, and buybacks of company shares do not constitute “earnings” under the CCPA.

Higher education fact sheet

While cautioning that job titles alone are not enough to determine if someone fits within a white-collar exemption, the fact sheet on higher education and overtime pay under the FLSA states that a faculty member who teaches online or remotely may qualify for the exemption for teachers. This includes part-time faculty. Athletic coaches at colleges and universities also may qualify for the exemption, but not if their primary duties are recruiting.

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HR Tip: Less stringent test for intern pay adopted by DOL

On Jan. 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced a less stringent test to determine whether employers must pay their interns at least a minimum wage and overtime. The new approach involves a primary-beneficiary test and abandons a rigid test where six parts all had to be met for someone to be considered an unpaid intern and not an employee. Four appellate courts rejected the DOL’s six-part test and the newly adopted seven factor primary-beneficiary test was used by these courts.

The new test does not require each of its factors to be met and the seven factors to be considered are the extent to which:

  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to compensation
  • The internship provides training that would be given in an educational environment
  • The intern’s completion of the program entitles him or her to academic credit
  • The internship corresponds with the academic calendar
  • The internship’s duration is limited to the period when the internship educates the intern
  • The intern’s work complements rather than displaces the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits
  • The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the internship’s end

The new standard is more flexible and aligned with court rulings. It’s expected to be easier to defend unpaid internships if they’re set up properly and there’s a good agreement between the intern volunteers and the employer. However, it is not a license to use unpaid interns without restraint. The test still exists and the question of who’s the primary beneficiary of the program – the employer or the intern – ultimately needs to be answered.

Companies that use internships should revise all program-related documentation-such as policies, advertisements and recruiting materials-to use the language of the seven factors in the primary-beneficiary test and the student intern and the employer should sign agreements incorporating the language.

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