2015: Dominated by Concern About Proposed Overtime Rule

By Allen Smith Jan 7, 2016
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The Department of Labor (DOL) will release the final revised overtime rule in 2016—though when it will be released is not yet known. The proposed rule was employers’ main legal worry in 2015, with DOL action on independent contractors and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations’ definition of “spouse” also causing concern. Here’s a look back at the most-read workplace compliance articles of 2015—some of which address timeless HR concerns—and at what these issues mean for HR professionals in 2016:

1. DOL Announces Long-Awaited Overtime Expansion Proposal

During the Society for Human Resource Management 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition, the DOL unveiled its proposed overtime rule. The rule proposed increasing the salary threshold for white-collar exemptions from the current $23,660 per year or $455 per week to $50,440 a year or $970 a week. The DOL also announced it intended to increase the amount annually to keep pace with inflation.

2. To-Do List in Response to Proposed Overtime Rule

Employers already are readying themselves for the proposed rule. A few simple steps that they’re taking include identifying currently exempt jobs with salaries that fall below the proposed new salary threshold for exempt employees; figuring out how many hours employees who will probably be reclassified are working per week, so that the organization can model pay going forward with reasonable accuracy; and determining what approach to take in setting nonexempt pay rates.

3. Late Release of Overtime Rule Could Mean Short Implementation Period

A rumor that the final overtime rule would be released in late 2016 raised concerns that there would be a short period of time between the rule’s publication and its effective date. A regulatory agenda subsequently pegged July 2016 as the DOL’s target date for release of the final rule.

4. DOL Narrows Independent Contractor Classification

Other DOL actions in the year piqued employers’ interest, specifically its guidance that defined “independent contractor” so narrowly that many individuals previously classified as independent contractors now must be classified as employees. The Department of Labor will be scrutinizing independent contractor classifications much more closely in 2016 as a result.

5. DOL Revises FMLA Regulations’ Definition of ‘Spouse’

Even before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Department of Labor made news by revising the FMLA’s definition of “spouse.” While the Supreme Court ruling subsequently made same-sex marriage lawful nationwide, the DOL’s standard followed the “place of celebration” standard, recognizing as spouses for purposes of the FMLA those lawfully married under the law of the state where the wedding took place. Now, however, same-sex spouses are clearly covered by the FMLA regardless of the place of celebration, so HR should adjust its FMLA administration accordingly.

6. Inclement Weather Poses FLSA Challenges

A perennial concern for HR is how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when there has been inclement weather. This article walks through the different rules for exempt and nonexempt employees during weather that shuts down a workplace or results in the need to telework.

7. Top 10 Mistakes in Handling I-9 Forms

Common I-9 mistakes still plague many employers. These mistakes include letting untrained staff administer the form, accepting fraudulent documents such as fake lawful permanent resident or Social Security cards, and making corrections without initializing and dating them.

8. Pay Transparency Rule Does Not Apply to HR in All Situations

The DOL clarified that its pay transparency regulations, which apply to federal contractors, do not protect HR professionals when they are acting as guardians of compensation information.

9. President Announces Paid-Leave Proposals

Paid-sick-leave laws are spreading at the local and state levels, but so far no such law has been enacted by Congress, despite a call for this enactment by President Barack Obama. These laws are likely to be enacted in more and more municipalities, though, leading to the growth of a patchwork of requirements for employers in the new year.

10. Supreme Court Sides with DOL on Change to FLSA Interpretation

The DOL’s “administrator interpretations” have been upheld, as the Supreme Court ruled that federal agencies do not have to go through the formal rulemaking process in order to make changes to rules that interpret regulations.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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