As many will recall, the U.S. Department of Labor issued regulations in May 2016 that would have increased dramatically the minimum salary requirements for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white-collar” overtime exemptions.  The 2016 FLSA regulations would have more than doubled the minimum weekly salary requirement for most white-collar overtime exemptions from $455 to $913 and contained a number of additional provisions, the vast majority of which were not viewed favorably by employers.

In November 2016, mere days before those FLSA regulations were set to become law, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking those regulations from taking effect.  Since then, the possibility of those regulations ever taking effect has diminished substantially.

Now, it appears that the changes the 2016 FLSA regulations promised may become a reality for Pennsylvania employers.  Yesterday, Governor Wolf announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will propose new regulations under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act that will increase the minimum salary requirement for the white-collar overtime exemptions under this state law.

The PMWA is the state-law equivalent of the FLSA.  The PMWA and FLSA both place minimum wage and overtime pay obligations on Pennsylvania employers.  While the laws’ requirements are similar, they are not identical.  Employers in Pennsylvania must meet the requirements of both laws to ensure compliance.  In areas where one law is more favorable to employees than the other, employers must comply with the more pro-employee requirements to avoid liability for unpaid minimum wages or overtime pay.

Governor Wolf announced that the proposed PMWA regulations will raise the salary level to determine overtime eligibility for most white-collar workers from the current FLSA minimum of $23,660 (i.e., $455 per week) to $31,720 (i.e., $610 per week) on January 1, 2020.  If the proposed regulations ultimately take effect, the annual salary threshold will increase to $39,832 (i.e., $766 per week) on January 1, 2021, followed by $47,892 (i.e., $921 per week) in 2022.  Starting in 2022, the salary threshold will update automatically every three years.  (The terms of such automatic increases have not yet been released.)

In addition, unlike the 2016 FLSA regulations, Governor Wolf announced that the new PMWA regulations will “clarify” the duties tests for the white-collar exemptions.  We can only assume that such “clarifications” when issued will not be favorable for employers and will make even more currently exempt employees now eligible for overtime.

The Department of Labor and Industry anticipates releasing the proposed regulations for public comment in March 2018.

For Pennsylvania employers, all of this will feel very familiar.  Should the proposed regulations become final and take effect, employers in Pennsylvania will need to take the following steps:

  • Identify those employees currently treated as exempt from overtime pay and determine whether their salaries will meet the new minimum salary thresholds.
  • For those employees currently treated as exempt who earn less than the new minimum salary thresholds, consider whether to increase their salaries to meet the new salary requirements or convert the employees to non-exempt status and pay them for overtime worked.

Of course, Governor Wolf announced only that proposed regulations containing these changes will be coming in March.  There is no guarantee that the proposed regulations will become final in the same or similar form, and, even if they do, legal challenges may await.  The PA Chamber of Business and Industry already has announced its strong opposition to the proposed changes.  There is also a gubernatorial election in November 2018 that may play a large role in the ultimate fate of these proposed regulations.

Whether and to what extent these changes will become law in 2020 remains to be seen.  We will provide updates on the proposed regulations as the situation warrants.  In the meantime, to quote the late great Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Back in 2015, Pittsburgh enacted a paid sick leave ordinance, following a trend among cities throughout the country. Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance required employers with fifteen employees or more to provide up to forty hours of paid sick leave per calendar year. Employers with less than fifteen employees were not spared. The ordinance required that those employers provide up to twenty-four hours per calendar year. The impact: 50,000 workers would receive paid sick leave.

But, what authority did Pittsburgh have to impose such a requirement?

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, among others, challenged whether Pittsburgh actually had authority to enact the ordinance. Initially, the trial court found that the Steel City had no such authority. Pittsburgh appealed, arguing that because it had adopted a Home Rule Charter, it had authority to exercise broad powers and authority.

A few weeks ago, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued its opinion, agreeing with the trial court that Pittsburgh indeed lacked the necessary authority. The court found that the Home Rule Charter Law has an exception with respect to the regulation of businesses. The exception specifically provides that “a municipality which adopts a home rule charter shall not determine duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers . . . except as expressly provided by [separate] statutes . . . .” Although Pittsburgh attempted to point to various statutes which it felt provided it with the needed authority, the court was not convinced. Struck down by the court, it was – and remains – the worst of times for Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance.

But, what about Philadelphia? It is a home rule charter municipality. It has a paid sick leave ordinance. Does the Commonwealth Court’s opinion effectively render its ordinance invalid, too? Nope. Philadelphia’s authority is derived from a different law, which applies only to cities of the first class (oh, and Philly is the only First Class City in Pennsylvania under the law). It includes no such limitation on the regulation of businesses. Yet, while Philadelphia’s statute may be unaffected by the court’s opinion, it may not be best of times for Philadelphia’s ordinance either. The Pennsylvania State Legislature is making efforts to affect Philadelphia and all municipalities. Senator John Eichelberger’s Senate Bill 128 would ban municipalities from passing sick leave and other leave requirements that are stronger than those required by federal and state governments. The bill was voted out of committee and is set for consideration by the Senate.

So, for our blog subscribers with businesses only in the city limits of Pittsburgh, there is no requirement that you establish a paid sick leave program for your employees. However, Philadelphia’s paid sick leave ordinance remains alive and well, and you must abide by its requirements. While some do not expect the General Assembly to move this bill through both chambers before the end of the current session, we will track the bill’s progress and update this blog should it be considered and voted on by the Senate. So, stay tuned for future posts on legislation effecting Philadelphia’s and all municipalities’ authority to impose paid sick leave requirements.

Just over thirty years ago, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“the Act”). It requires that employers verify the identity and work authorization of the people they hire. It also mandates that such verification be done on a form designated by the Attorney General. We know that form as the I-9. From time to time, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issues revised versions of the I-9. It did so again last November.

As we outlined in our original blog post, the new version, found here, contains a few modifications. First, it is designed to be more computer-friendly, with dropdown lists, calendars for filling in dates, and on-screen instructions – all useful in eliminating common errors discovered during audits. Additionally, it has prompts to ensure information is entered correctly, the ability to have multiple preparers, a dedicated area for additional information, and a supplemental page for the preparer. Finally, the new version changes Section 1. Instead of asking for “other names used” by the employee, it asks for “other last names used.”

While employers had the option to start using the new version immediately, they are required to start using the new version no later than January 22, 2017. On the lower left corner of the form, you will see that the form has a revision date of “11/14/2016 N.” The “N” denotes that after the effective date of the form, previous versions are no longer valid, and employers cannot use them to satisfy the requirements of the Act. In its news release about the update, the USCIS indicated that the new Form I-9 will become effective on January 22, 2017.

So, if you have yet to make the switch, now is the time. Keep in mind, however, that despite the implementation of the new form, employers must continue to comply with existing rules for storage and retention with respect to all previously completed forms.

Earlier in the year, we reported on a temporary injunction issued by a federal district court Judge in Texas.  The injunction prevented the Department of Labor from enforcing the so-called “persuader rule.”  The rule sought to require all employers, consultants, and lawyers to disclose and report labor relations services, including  fee arrangements and a description of the services provided to employers by attorneys and consultants.

After issuance of the temporary injunction, the federal government filed a motion to seeking to set aside the Judge’s order in an effort to clear the way for enforcement of the rule.  The National Federation of Independent Business, which sought the temporary injunction on behalf of employers, filed its own motion to make the injunction permanent.

On November 16, 2016, the Court denied the government’s motion and granted the National Federation of Independent Business’s, permanently prohibiting the federal government from enforcing the persuader rule.  This is a big win for employers everywhere as they will not face consequences for failing to disclose the labor relations advice given by their consultants and attorneys.

The government has appealed, but the Fifth Circuit is not expected to consider the case before the end of President Obama’s term in January.  It is expected that President-elect Trump’s administration will either reverse the persuader rule outright or allow it to die by withdrawing the appeal.  We will continue to monitor the issue and report any further developments here.

McNees recently issued an Employer Alert regarding the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Fair Labor Standards Act regulations, which significantly change the FLSA’s white collar overtime exemptions.  You can review the Employer Alert by clicking here.

Please feel free to reach out to any member of the McNees Labor and Employment Team to discuss the new regulations and strategies for effectively implementing the changes in your organization.