On February 15, Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on a city ordinance that would require all private employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Here’s what you need to know if the ordinance is enacted.
When will it take effect?
Who is affected?
All private employers regardless of size including small businesses and non-profits. The ordinance does not apply to government agencies.
Does this apply to independent contractors?
It applies to employees. The ordinance defines an employee as an individual who performs work for pay and an employer as a person or company that pays an employee and exercises control over the employee’s wages, hours, and working conditions. Some independent contractors may be covered by the definitions.
What employees are entitled to sick leave?
Any employee that works for the employer inside the city limits for at least 80 hours in a calendar year. It applied to both full-time and part-time employees.
How much leave are they entitled to?
One hour per 30 hours worked up to a total of 64 hours (8 sick days).
Is there a probationary period?
No. The employees can use their hours as soon as they are earned. Example: Employee works Monday through Thursday, 8 hours per day. Employee can take one hour of paid sick leave on Friday.
What if my company’s existing policy is more generous?
Then, you don’t need to change it. The City ordinance will serve as a minimum.
Who is going to enforce this?
The City of Austin’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office.
As a small business owner, I’ve always known it would take a mighty big tax cut to pay for me to hire additional help. For small businesses, tax cuts are never sizeable enough to defray the cost of a full-time employee. Interestingly, at least one CEO of a publicly traded company agrees. This Linked In article penned by David Mendels, former CEO of Brighthouse, was enlightening.
You can find the article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chief-economic-advisor-trump-most-excited-group-out-big-david-mendels/.
Employers are required to keep an employment eligibility verification form (I-9) on each employee. The form documents the employee’s citizenship status and eligibility to work in the United States. In July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revised the form for use beginning September 18, 2017. The new form only applies to new hires; employers don’t have to fill out the new form for current employees.
Where is the new form? You can find the new form I-9 in English and Spanish as well as instructions here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-9.
What changed? The changes seem minor. The most significant change is that U.S. citizens born abroad can now use a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) as proof of status. Minor edits were made to the form instructions.
Keep a copy of the completed I-9 in the employee’s personnel file. I-9 forms do not get filed with any state or federal agency.
It seems a lifetime ago that the Department of Labor (DOL) announced changes to employee overtime rules that would raise the salary threshold for exempt employees.* The rule was to take effect on December 1, 2016. Many employees who had been exempt from overtime would be eligible for overtime pay under the new rule which raised the exemption threshold to $913 a week: $47,476 per year rather than the current $23,660. Employers scrambled to revise job descriptions and policies regarding overtime work to comply with the rule.
Twenty-one states file suit to challenge the new rule. On November 22, 2016, the U.S. District Court in Sherman, Texas granted the states’ motion to prevent the rule from taking effect. The DOL appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit. Briefing was completed last month, and it appears that the DOL has abandoned the new salary level. Instead, the DOL is seeking information. On July 26, the Federal Register published a request for information posing 11 sets of specific questions for public comment. Questions include whether there should be multiple salary levels for exempt employees based on factors such as inflation, employer size, and census region; how setting different exemption levels for executive vs. administrative employees would affect businesses; and whether the exemption test ought to be based solely on the employee’s duties rather than salary. Comments are due by September 25, 2017. The questions and instructions for submitting comments are here. Anyone can submit a comment, and so far over 65,000 comments have been submitted.
What should employers do? Nothing for now. Now, we wait for the Fifth Circuit to issue an opinion.
See our previous blogs about the overtime rule: 11/29/16 – A Lump of Coal for Admin Employees? Texas Court Blocks Implementation of DOL’s Overtime Rule Change; 11/16/16 $47,476 the Magic Number – Are You Ready?; 10/10/16 – Time’s a Wastin’ – Get Ready for the new Overtime Rule; 5/27/16 – Holiday Gift for Salaried Workers: OVERTIME.
On November 22, Judge Amos Mazzant, of the Eastern District of Texas sitting in Sherman, issued a nationwide injunction blocking implementation of the highly-anticipated changes to the Overtime Rule. A group of 21 state attorneys general, including Ken Paxton of Texas, sued to block implementation of the rule which was slated to take effect on December 1.
The rule change would have raised the overtime exemption for salaried executive, administrative, and professional employees from $455 a week to $921 per week.
In other words, administrative employees making less than $47,892 per year would have been entitled to overtime if they worked more than 40 hours in a week.
The court found that the Department of Labor (DOL) exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the rule change. The court’s decision is available on the Texas Attorney General’s website: http://tinyurl.com/zzdo4mw.
The DOL stated it is considering its legal options. It has not yet announced whether it will appeal the injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOL press release can be viewed here: https://www.dol.gov/WHD/overtime/final2016/.
As a practical matter, the ruling comes too late for most businesses.
The DOL announced the proposed rule change on July 6, 2015. The Department received over 290,000 comments to the proposed rule change. On May 18, 2016 the DOL released the final rule and warned the new rule would take effect on December 1.
Larger businesses adopted strategies for complying with the new rule months ago. Businesses that planned to comply and announced those plans to employees will hesitate to change course because of the cost of making changes at this late date, uncertainty whether the ruling will stand, and harm to employee morale.
The Department of Labor has finally issued a long anticipated rule raising the “white collar exemptions”, that is, the salary exemption level for executive, administrative, and professional workers. Traditionally, salaried administrative workers were not eligible for overtime pay unless their salary was very, very low. Beginning December 1, 2016, the overtime eligibility threshold for salaried employees will raise to $47,476 per year or $913 per week. What this means is that salaried employees making less than $47,476 yearly will be entitled to overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a work week.
The exemption threshold had not been updated since 2004. The new rule provides for automatic updates every three years to maintain the exemption threshold at the 40th percentile of full time salaried workers’ earnings in the lowest wage region according to the U.S. Census.
Plan now to be in compliance on December 1. Salary alone is not the only factor for determining whether a salaried employee is entitled to overtime or is exempt. There is actually a three part test:
- The employee is paid a salary as opposed to an hourly wage;
- The salary must be at least $47,476 annually for a full time worker to be exempt; and
- The employee’s primary job must be executive, administrative, or professional, e.g., management, exercise of discretion and independent judgment, or work that requires advanced knowledge.
Otherwise, the employee is entitled to overtime pay at time and a half the employee’s hourly equivalent rate for each hour worked beyond a 40 hour work week.
The Department of Labor enumerated four options for employers to comply with the new rule:
- Raise salaries to maintain the exemption;
- Keep current salaries, and plan to pay overtime;
- Adjust workloads and schedules so that employees are not working overtime; or
- Adjust wages by converting salaried employees to hourly.
Raising salaries and paying overtime is simply not financially feasible for many businesses. Employees may negatively view adjustments in workloads and schedules or conversion from salaries to hourly pay. There is another way to comply with the new rule without undertaking additional financial burdens: adopt a workplace policy mandating that non-exempt employees cannot work overtime without prior written approval from a supervisor. Enforce the policy consistently. This will help the business be able to predict and control labor costs while encouraging healthy work-life balance for employees.
Businesses have only a few months to plan for the new rule. Start analyzing your options now. A business lawyer can help your business make the transition to the new rule.
The Department of Labor has published this fact sheet for employers: https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/general-guidance.pdf