In a recent change of position, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has endorsed a new standard for determining when an unpaid intern is entitled to compensation as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  We previously reported on an earlier DOL effort to tighten up the restrictions on the use of unpaid interns.  It looks like the DOL has decided to change course.

By way of further background, the United States Supreme Court has yet to address the issue, but several federal circuit and district courts have attempted to determine the proper standard to assess these situations.  Recognizing that internships are widely supported by the education community, these courts have sought to strike a balance between providing individuals with legitimate learning opportunities and the exploitation of unpaid interns.

In keeping with the rulings of the courts, the DOL, stated last Friday that “the Wage and Hour Division will update its enforcement policies to align with recent case law [and] eliminate unnecessary confusion among the regulated community…”

Accordingly, the DOL rescinded a 2010 Fact Sheet and adopted the primary beneficiary test, which considers the following factors to determine whether an intern or student is, in fact, an employee under the FLSA:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

No one factor is determinative and, therefore, the inquiry of whether an intern or student is an employee under the FLSA depends upon the unique circumstances of each case.  The Labor & Employment attorneys at McNees are ready to help employers with the analysis of whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship.

The United States Supreme Court will address again whether service advisors are exempt from overtime compensation requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

In a case involving several procedural twists and turns, the Supreme Court, for the second time, will hear Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro.  That case involves five service advisors who were employed by a California Mercedes-Benz dealership.  In 2012, the employees sued the dealership, under the FLSA, after it refused to pay them overtime compensation.  The employees alleged, among other things, that as a part of their job duties, they were required to upsell customers for additional automobile services, but were not required to actually sell cars or perform auto repairs.  They further alleged that they were only paid by commission and were “mandated” to work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at least five days a week.

The FLSA requires that employers pay employees overtime compensation equal to 1 and 1/2 times their regular rate for all hours worked in excess of forty per week, unless an exemption applies.  Section 213(b) of FLSA is at issue in this case and provides that overtime compensation is not required for an employee who is a “salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles…”

A California district court dismissed the case, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the service advisors were eligible for overtime compensation, as they did not fall within the meaning of a “salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles.”  The Ninth Circuit rested its decision on a Department of Labor regulation, issued in April 2011, which the Supreme Court later found invalid.

In its first time reviewing the case, instead of determining the issue of whether the service advisors were qualified for the Section 213(b) exemption, the Supreme Court kicked the question back to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration, instructing the lower court to rule without considering the Department of Labor’s regulation.  Although the Supreme Court side stepped the issue in 2016, Justice Thomas in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Alito projected how they would resolve the issue, opining that Section 213(b) covered the employees.

After reconsideration, the Ninth Circuit again found that service advisors do not fall with Section 213(b) of the FLSA.  The Ninth Circuit’s ruling is at odds, as it acknowledged, with several other courts, including the Fourth Circuit, Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of Montana.  Given this discrepancy, the Supreme Court will hear the case yet again to hopefully put this topic to rest by issuing a final resolution.

In the meantime, there is a clear ambiguity in how auto dealers should classify employees in service advisor type roles.  Until this case is resolved, auto dealers who wish to classify service advisors as exempt from overtime should consider the applicability of Section 7(i) of the FLSA.  That section provides an overtime exemption applicable to employees who are employed by a retail or service establishment and are paid primarily on a commission basis.