Obama to Seek to Narrow Federal Overtime Exemptions
News media are widely reporting that President Obama intends this week to direct the Department of Labor to materially revise the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations pertaining to overtime exemptions so that fewer employees will qualify for an exemption from overtime. Obama's move relies on his executive authority to revise the rules that carry out the FLSA. Obama is relying on this executive authority to carry out his pro-worker agenda, as a means of sidestepping the need to pass actual legislation that likely would be blocked by Republicans in Congress.
While the details of the intended revisions have not yet been announced, it is reported that Obama will be urging at least two significant changes: (1) an increase in the amount of minimum compensation that must be paid to an employee in order for the employee to qualify for exempt status (the minimum currently is $455 per week under the FLSA, and Obama is expected to direct that the minimum be substantially increased, with some urging that it be doubled); and (2) replacing the FLSA “primary duty” test with a more quantitative test that requires an employee to spend a certain percentage of his or her time (likely at least 50%) on exempt duties in order to qualify for exempt status. These changes would substantially decrease the number of employees who qualify for overtime exemption under the FLSA, and would also likely substantially increase the number of wage and hour lawsuits (already soaring) filed against employers to challenge exempt status and seek unpaid overtime compensation. Business groups are expected to vigorously oppose the intended overhaul of the regulations.
So what does this mean for California employers? Probably not much. California employers are already subject to more narrow overtime exemption laws under California law. To qualify for exemption in California, an employee (among other things) must be paid a guaranteed salary of at least $640 per week (rising to $800 per week in 2016) and must spend more than 50% of his or her weekly work time on exempt duties. Thus, the changes being contemplated by the White House are already in effect in California, and the Obama administration appears to be looking to California's laws as guidance in revising the FLSA's overtime exemptions. This is not good news for employers.