Posts

Department of Labor announces return of liquidated damages for wage and hour claims

By: Janet Hendrick and Phoebe Mitchell

On April 9, 2021, in Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) No. 2021-2, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced it would return to its former policy of seeking liquidated damages from employers in pre-litigation investigations and settlements of wage and hour claims. This revived policy simultaneously rescinds the Trump Administration’s employer-friendly practice of refraining from pursuing liquidated damages in such matters.

Wage and Hour Division logoUnder the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), violations of minimum wage or overtime requirements subject employers to liability for the unpaid minimum wages and overtime. But the FLSA also provides that employers may be liable for an equal amount in liquidated damages, sometimes referred to as “double damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 amended the FLSA to add a safe harbor provision against liquidated damages for employers who act in good faith or who had reasonable grounds for believing the act or omission that resulted in liability was not a violation of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 260.

The pro-employer Trump Administration’s WHD abstained from pursuing liquidated damages in certain scenarios, including when there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the employer, or when the employer had no previous history of violations. The stated objective of this policy of abstention was to remove certain regulatory and enforcement obstacles to economic growth during America’s battle with COVID-19. In contrast, the Biden Administration’s FAB 2021-2 serves as reminder to employers of the new administration’s pro-worker agenda.

Now, under FAB 2021-2, the “WHD will return to pursing liquidated damages from employers found due in its pre litigation investigations provided that the Regional Solicitor (RSOL) or designee concurs with the liquidated damages request.”  This makes employer compliance with the FLSA more important than ever to avoid the possibility of an assessment of liquidated damages.

Phillips Murrah’s labor and employment attorneys continue to monitor developments to provide up-to-date advice to our clients regarding the DOL’s policies.

 


Janet Hendrick

Janet Hendrick is an experienced employment litigator who tackles each of her client’s problems with a tailored, results-oriented approach.

For more information on this Employment Alert and its impact on your business, please call 405.235.4100 or email me.

COVID-19_Virus graphicFollow our Pandemic coverage at our Covid-19 Resource Center

facebook icon

Follow our coverage on Facebook

 

Sign of the Times: Department of Labor publishes guidance on electronic postings and telemedicine visits in light of pandemic changes

By Janet A. Hendrick

Janet Hendrick

Janet Hendrick is an experienced employment litigator who tackles each of her client’s problems with a tailored, results-oriented approach.

Recognizing ongoing changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the way we work and receive medical treatment, the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor issued employer guidance on December 29, 2020 on two issues:  electronic posting of required employment law notices and when a televisit with a health care provider counts as an in-person visit under the Family and Medical Leave Act. DOL’s guidance comes in the form of Field Assistance Bulletins, which provide guidance to the Wage and Hour Division field staff.

Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2020-7:  Electronic Statutory Postings

DOL published this guidance in response to “questions from employers regarding the use of email or postings on an internet or intranet website, including shared network drive or file system, to provide employees with required notices of their statutory rights.”  The bulletin provides guidance as to when these forms of electronic notice satisfy the notice requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, and the Service Contract Act.  DOL’s general view is that electronic postings should supplement, but not replace, physical postings in most cases.

Electronic communications graphicFirst, if a statute requires the posting of a notice “at all times,” DOL will only consider electronic posting an acceptable substitute where (1) all employees work exclusively remotely, (2) all employees ordinarily receive information from the employer electronically, and (3) all employees have access to the electronic posting at all times.  For employers that have both remote and on-site employees, the employer may supplement physical postings with electronic postings and in fact the DOL “would encourage both methods of posting.”

Second, if a statute, such as the Service Contract Act, permits employers to meet notice requirements by delivery of individual notices to each employee, an employer satisfies this requirement by emailing notices, but only if the employee customarily receives information from the employer electronically.  Otherwise, the employer must send a physical notice to satisfy the notice requirement.

Third, any electronic notice must be as effective as a physical, hard-copy posting to meet statutory requirements.  This means employees must be able to readily see a copy of the posting, which DOL says will “depend on the facts.”  At a minimum, DOL requires that the employees are capable of accessing the posting without having to request permission to view a file or access a computer.  DOL will not consider an employer to have complied with a posting requirement if:

  • The employer does not customarily post employee notices electronically;
  • The employer has not taken steps to inform employees where and how to access the notice electronically;
  • The employer posts the notice on an unknown or little-known electronic location, which DOL equates to “hiding the notice, similar to posting a hard-copy notice in an inconspicuous place, such as a custodial closet or little-visited basement”; or
  • The employees cannot easily determine which electronic posting applies to them and their worksite.

Following the general guidance, the bulletin provides further guidance specific to each relevant statute, with examples of when DOL will consider electronic postings compliant with the relevant statutory requirement.

Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2020-8:  Telemedicine and Serious Health Conditions under the FMLA

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division issued a frequently asked question (FAQ #12) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that states “Until December 31, 2020, the WHD will consider telemedicine visits to be in-person visits . . ., for purposes of establishing a serious health condition under the FMLA.  To be considered an in-person visit, the telemedicine visit must include an examination, evaluation, or treatment by a health care provider; be performed by video conference; and be permitted and accepted by state licensing authorities.”  Bulletin 2020-8 provides guidance to DOL staff regarding telemedicine visits past December 31, 2020.

As a reminder, under the FMLA, eligible employees may take leave for their own or a family member’s “serious health condition.” A “serious health condition” requires either inpatient (overnight) care or “continuing treatment,” which in turn includes “examinations to determine if a serious health condition exists and evaluations of the condition.”  FMLA regulations provide that “treatment by a health care provider means an in-person visit to a health care provider,” and does not include a phone call, letter, email, or text message.”

Noting the rapid acceleration of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Wage and Hour Division’s “experience . . . that health care providers are now often using telemedicine to deliver examinations, evaluations, and other healthcare services that would previously have been provided only in an office setting,” the bulletin states that “WHD will consider a telemedicine visit with a health care provider as an in-person visit,” provided certain criteria are met.

To be considered an in-person visit, the visit must include:

  • An examination, evaluation, or treatment by a health care provider;
  • Be permitted and accepted by state licensing authorities; and
  • Generally, be performed by video conference.

Phone calls, letters, emails, or text messages remain insufficient, alone, to satisfy the in-person visit requirement.

We will continue to post updates on new guidance from DOL and other federal agencies on our website.


For more information on how this DOL guidance may impact your business, please call 214.615.6391 or email Janet A. Hendrick.

For ongoing coverage of information related to COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.  

facebook icon

Follow our coverage on FACEBOOK

U.S. Department of Labor Requests Public Input on Overtime Regulations

07/25/17

The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that they will publish a Request for Information for the overtime rule on Wednesday, July 26.

In the news release, USDOL announced:

“The RFI is an opportunity for the public to provide information that will aid the department in formulating a proposal to revise these regulations which define and delimit exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements for certain employees.

“The RFI solicits feedback on questions related to the salary level test, the duties test, varying cost-of-living across different parts of the U.S., inclusion of non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments to satisfy a portion of the salary level, the salary test for highly compensated employees, and automatic updating of the salary level tests.”

In the RFI, the USDOL said that gathering public input will greatly aid in the development of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and help the department to move forward with rulemaking in a timely manner.

“The nature of the questions makes it clear that the current Administration and Secretary of Labor want additional input on these questions, and want to give due consideration to the impact these regulations will have on all employers,” said Byrona Maule, Director and Co-Chair of Phillips Murrah’s Labor & Employment Practice Group. “Replies to these questions are one of the key ways that the Administration can gauge how the regulation will impact companies.”

The public will have a 60-day public comment period from the date the RFI is published in the Federal Register.

  • For a sneak peak at the questions, which will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, click here.
  • To view instructions on submitting public comments contained in the RFI document, which you can view here.
  • Comments may also be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov.

 

USDOL Reinstates Wage & Hour Opinion Letters

The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that they will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters, which had been replaced in 2010 by issuance of USDOL general guidance. This action allows the USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division to use opinion letters as one of its methods for providing guidance to covered employers and employees.

Opinion letters are official opinions written by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of how to apply rules related to the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes in specific circumstances presented by an employer, employee or other entity seeking clarity. Opinion letters had been the general practice for seeking clarity since the Fair Labor Standards Act’s inception in 1938.

“By using the opinion letters, laws can be interpreted differently without the need of going through the administrative process,” explains Byrona J. Maule, Phillips Murrah Director and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.

This comes on the heels of the action taken by USDOL earlier this month, which withdrew two Obama-era guidance letters that sought to clarify worker classifications regarding independent contractors and joint employment.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in today’s release:

“Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes. The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

USDOL also announced a website portal whereby those seeking clarity can search for existing guidance or submit a request for an opinion letter. Today’s release explained: “The webpage explains what to include in the request, where to submit the request, and where to review existing guidance. The division will exercise discretion in determining which requests for opinion letters will be responded to, and the appropriate form of guidance to be issued.”

Employers should be vigilant in reviewing the opinion letters issued by the USDOL for trends and reversals of prior legal positions.

Visit this link to view currently published opinion letters: Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Opinion Letters – Fair Labor Standards Act

 


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required