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: Failure to pay for pre-shift work can be costly

A recent settlement in a class-action lawsuit, Tompkins v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, is a reminder to all employers about the obligation to pay for pre-shift work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state laws. A federal court approved a $775,000 settlement for Farmers Insurance’s alleged failure to compensate auto claims representatives, appraisers, and adjusters in several states for pre-shift work.

The alleged unpaid activities included starting up computers and accessing Farmers’ software applications, obtaining daily assignments, determining the locations the workers would need to visit, mapping routes, contacting customers and auto repair facilities, downloading required forms and gathering paperwork, as well as traveling to the workers’ first appointments of the day. The settlement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted both the FLSA collective action and state law class claims and covers nearly 400 current and former employees.

Employers are reminded that activities before the official time a shift begins are compensable if they include tasks the worker is employed to perform or are an “integral and indispensable part of” the job and include mandatory pre-shift meetings. Employers should review policies and practices regarding compensation for pre- and post-shift work, as well as educate managers about the wage laws that require payment for all hours worked.

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