DOL Clarifies Worker Classification Test

QUICK FACTS
  • On July 15, 2015, the DOL issued guidance on determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.
  • Workers who are employees are entitled to legal protections under federal law.
  • The DOL uses the “economic realities test” to classify workers.
  • The DOL’s guidance provides clarification on the six factors of the economic realities test.

Employers should use the six factors of the economic realities test as a guide in their efforts to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

On July 15, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an administrative interpretation to clarify how to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.
Employee misclassification is a growing concern for the DOL. An increasing number of U.S. workplaces are restructuring their business organizations, creating a higher risk of misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

Employer misclassification has a direct impact on employee eligibility for benefits, legal protections (such as minimum wage and overtime rights) and taxation.

Worker Classification Tests
Several tests exist to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The most common tests include the common law or agency test, the economic realities test, the hybrid test and the IRS test.

Traditionally, the DOL has favored using the six-factor economic realities test because this test seeks to determine whether a worker is economically dependent on his or her employer or whether the worker is in business for him- or herself. The DOL’s rationale is that if the worker is economically dependent on the employer, the worker should be classified as an employee and protected by employment laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The Economic Realities Test
The six factors for the economic realities test are:

  1.  Whether the worker’s job is an integral part of the employer’s business;
  2. Whether the worker’s managerial skill affects his or her opportunity for profit or loss;
  3. Whether the worker’s and the employer’s investments are comparable;
  4. Whether the work performed requires special skills and initiative;
  5. Whether the relationship between the worker and the employer is permanent or indefinite; and
  6. An analysis of the nature and degree of the employer’s control over the worker.

In the administrative interpretation, the DOL emphasized repeatedly that no one factor is determinative and that the factors should not be applied in a mechanical fashion. Rather, the DOL encourages employers to use the six factors as a guide in their efforts to classify workers correctly.

The DOL further explains that the six factors should be interpreted within the context of the FLSA’s definition of employment. The FLSA defines “to employ” as to suffer or permit someone to work. The DOL explains that this broad definition of employment was “specifically designed to ensure as broad of a scope of statutory coverage as possible.” This “suffer or permit” standard prevents employers from using agents to evade labor and employment responsibilities. According to the DOL, under the economic realities test, most workers will be considered employees subject to the FLSA.

An Integral Part of the Employer’s Business
A worker that performs activities that are an integral part of the employer’s business is more likely to be dependent on the employer, and, therefore, should be classified as an employee.

The administrative interpretation states that the courts have found the “integral” factor to be compelling even when the activity in question is just one component of the business or is performed by hundreds or thousands of other workers. For example, the DOL states, “a worker answering calls at a call center along with hundreds of others is performing work that is integral to the call center’s business, even if that work is the same as, and interchangeable with, many others’ work.”

The DOL also mentioned that work can be integral to an employers’ business even if it is performed away from the employer’s premises, at the worker’s home or even on the premises of the employers’ customers.

Managerial Skill
The focus of this factor is whether the worker’s managerial skill can affect his or her opportunity for profit or loss. To determine profit or loss opportunities, employers should look beyond the job at hand and determine whether the worker’s skills can lead to additional business from other parties or reduce the opportunities for future work.

When evaluating this factor, employers should consider a worker’s decision to hire others, purchase materials and equipment, advertise, rent space and manage timetables.

The DOL specifically mentions that a worker’s ability to work more hours and the amount of work available from the employer have “nothing to do with the worker’s managerial skills and do little to separate employees from independent contractors.” This is because both are likely to earn more if they work more and if there is more work available.

Comparable Investments
To determine whether the employer and worker investments are comparable, employers should look at the nature and the extent of the investments.

An independent contractor should make some investment and undertake at least some risk of loss if he or she is in business for him- or herself. The investment should support a business beyond any particular job. These types of investments include furthering the business’ capacity to expand, reducing business cost structure and extending the reach of the independent contractor’s market.

However, a worker’s investments should not be considered in isolation. They should be compared to the employer’s investment. If the worker’s investment is relatively minor, the employer and the worker may not be on the same footing and the worker may be economically dependent on the employer.

Finally, investing in tools and equipment is not an automatic indication of significant investment or that the worker is an independent contractor. This type of investment must be compared to the worker’s investment in his or her overall business and to the employer’s investment in the project and perhaps in its overall activities.

Special Skills and Initiative
A worker’s skills and initiative can be an indicator of economic independence. However, when considering a worker’s skill, employers should consider the worker’s business skills, judgement and initiative, rather than his or her technical skills, which are often required to perform the work. Special skills and initiative are indicators of economic independence when the worker can use them in an independent way, such as demonstrating business-like initiative.

The DOL provides the following illustrative examples:

Example 1
A highly skilled carpenter provides carpentry services for a construction firm; however, such skills are not exercised in an independent manner. For example, the carpenter does not make any independent judgments at the job site beyond the work that he is doing for that job; he does not determine the sequence of work, order additional materials, or think about bidding the next job, but rather is told what work to perform where. In this scenario, the carpenter, although highly-skilled technically, is not demonstrating the skill and initiative of an independent contractor (such as managerial and business skills). He is simply providing his skilled labor.
Example 2
In contrast, a highly skilled carpenter who provides a specialized service for a variety of area construction companies, for example, custom, handcrafted cabinets that are made-to-order, may be demonstrating the skill and initiative of an independent contractor if the carpenter markets his services, determines when to order materials and the quantity of materials to order, and determines which orders to fill.

Permanent or Indefinite Employment
Employment that is permanent or indefinite in character suggests that the worker is an employee. Most independent contractors will avoid permanent or indefinite work relationships and are usually hired to work until a job or a project is complete (even if this takes several months or years). Moreover, once a job or project is complete, the independent contractor does not necessarily continue to provide his or her services to the employer.

Employers should consider a worker’s reasons for intermittent, seasonal, permanent or indefinite employment. Neither working for others nor having multiple sources of income transforms a worker into an independent contractor. The key is to determine “whether the lack of permanence or indefiniteness is due to operational characteristics intrinsic to the industry (such as employers that hire part-time workers or use staffing agencies) or the worker’s own business initiative.”

For seasonal employment, the proper test to determine permanency is whether the employees worked for the entire operative period of a particular season, not whether the worker returns from season to season.

Nature and Degree of Employer Control
An independent contractor controls meaningful aspects of the work he or she performs. This type of control should lead objective observers to conclude that the worker is conducting his or her own business.

Control over meaningful aspects of the work may extend beyond controlling working hours and could include work schedules, dress code and task prioritization.

The DOL asserts that this control cannot be theoretical and explains that what counts is not what the worker could have done, but what the worker actually does.

Finally, the DOL warns that the control factor should not “play an oversized role” and dwarf other factors in the economic realities test when determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

More Information
Please contact your professional agents and underwriters here at Morris & Reynolds Insurance for additional information on appropriate worker classification.

DOL Proposes Changes to FLSA White Collar Exemption Rules

QUICK FACTS
  • On June 30, 2015, the DOL proposed a rule to modify the FLSA’s white collar exemption.
  • The proposed changes to the exemption could affect 11 million workers across the United States.
  • The proposed rule would increase the salary threshold for the white collar exemption to a projected $50,440 per year in 2016.
  • The proposal suggests implementing automatic annual updates of salary levels.

The proposed rule would require employers to review employees’ exempt status, update overtime policies, notify employees of changes and adjust payroll systems.

dolOn June 30, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposed rule to modify the “white collar exemptions” provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The white collar exemptions are minimum wage and overtime exception rules for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees.

Specifically, the proposed rule seeks to:

  • Increase the salary requirements for employees to be considered exempt;
  • Implement automatic salary requirement updates; and
  • Receive feedback on whether modifying the duties test is necessary at this time.

The DOL estimates that, if implemented, the proposed rule would extend overtime protections to approximately 5 million workers who are currently exempt under the white collar rules and would clarify overtime compensation eligibility for another 6 million white collar workers.

The DOL has invited the general public to comment on the proposed rule. Comments can be submitted electronically or via regular mail. All comments must be submitted or postmarked by Aug. 29, 2015.

Why Is the DOL Issuing a Proposed Rule?
On March 13, 2014, President Barack Obama directed the DOL to simplify and modernize the regulations that protect “white collar” workers under the FLSA.
The Administration’s concern is that current white collar exemption requirements are outdated, since the salary threshold has been changed only twice in the last 40 years. Fewer workers are eligible for overtime now than in the past due to inflation.

White Collar Exemptions
To qualify for the white collar exemption, an employee must meet a salary basis test, a salary level test and a duties test.

  • The salary basis test is used to make sure the employee is paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction due to variations in the quality or quantity of work.
  • The salary level test is used to ensure that the employee meets a minimum specified amount to qualify for the exemption.
  • The duties test requires that the employee’s job duties conform to executive, administrative or professional duties, as defined by law.

Higher Salary Requirements
The proposed rule would increase the current minimum salary level of $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $921 per week or ($47,892 per year). The proposed new salary level represents the 40th percentile of wages earned by workers across the United States in 2013. Projected data for 2016 would set these numbers to $970 per week and $50,440 per year.

The proposed rule would also increase the $100,000 salary level for highly compensated individuals to $122,148 per year—the 90th percentile of wages earned by workers in 2013.

The DOL is also considering special salary tests for employees in American Samoa and workers in the motion picture industry.

The DOL has stated that these updates are necessary to accurately represent the intent of minimum wage and overtime exemptions, which have not been updated since 2004.

Automatic Salary Requirement Updates
If implemented, the proposed rule will automatically update minimum salary level requirements for the white collar exemptions every year. Implementing automatic annual updates would prevent salary level requirements that lag behind current wage payment trends.

In the proposed rule, the DOL explains that it is considering tying minimum salary requirements to:

  • Fixed percentiles of wages paid (40th percentile for weekly wage and 90th percentile for highly compensated individuals); or
  • Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index.

Calculating Employee Wages
The proposed rule also states that the DOL is considering allowing an employer to apply nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments towards a portion of an employee’s standard salary level.

The proposed rule explains that including these bonuses would more accurately represent an employee’s earnings and would provide a better assessment of whether a white collar exemption should apply.

Public Comments on Duties Test
The proposed rule does not include specific suggestions to modify the white collar exemption duties test.

However, the DOL is considering whether updating this test is also necessary. To this end, the DOL is inviting public comments on whether the duties test is working as intended. The DOL has included several questions in the proposed rule for commenters to consider.

Impact on Employers
If implemented, the proposed rule would require employers to re-determine the exemption status of employees, update and adapt overtime policies, notify employees of policy changes and adjust their payroll systems.

These measures could trigger significant costs. For example, employers may be required to pay overtime wages to previously exempt employees or incur ongoing managerial costs because they would need to monitor more closely the work of employees they didn’t have to monitor before.

On the other hand, the DOL is predicting that higher salary level requirements for white collar exemptions will simplify the process of employee classification because employers would not be required to perform a duties test for employees below the updated salary requirements. This simplification could result in fewer lawsuits and lower litigation costs for employers.

More Information
Stay tuned to www.morrisandreynolds.com for the latest news affecting your insurance needs, and stay in close contact to your professional agents and underwriters here at Morris & Reynolds Insurance. We will do our very best to guide you in the right direction, keep you informed and assist you for many years to come.

Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Department of Labor issued a fact sheet in April 2010 regarding internship programs and compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime for the services that they provide to “for-profit” private sector employers.

Background
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines the term “employ” very broadly as including to “suffer or permit to work.” Covered and non-exempt individuals who are “suffered or permitted” to work must be compensated under the law for the services they perform for an employer.

Internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, unless the test described below relating to trainees is met. Interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.

The FLSA makes a special exception under certain circumstances for individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency and for individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profit food banks. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious, charitable, civic or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations.

Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible. WHD is reviewing the need for additional guidance on internships in the public and non-profit sectors.

The Test For Unpaid Interns
There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation. The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another person who provides aid or instruction.

This rule may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria. The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad. Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.

Similar To An Education Environment & The Primary Beneficiary Of The Activity
In general, the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience (this often occurs where a college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit).

The more the internship provides the individual with skills that can be used in multiple employment settings, as opposed to skills particular to one employer’s operation, the more likely the intern would be viewed as receiving training. Under these circumstances the intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular and recurring basis, and the business is not dependent upon the work of the intern.

On the other hand, if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.

Displacement & Supervision Issues
If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek. If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled to compensation under the FLSA.

Conversely, if the employer is providing job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work, the activity is more likely to be viewed as a bona fide education experience. On the other hand, if the intern receives the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workforce, this would suggest an employment relationship, rather than training.

Job Entitlement
The internship should be of a fixed duration, established prior to the outset of the internship. Further, unpaid internships generally should not be used by the employer as a trial period for individuals seeking employment at the conclusion of the internship period. If an intern is placed with the employer for a trial period with the expectation that he or she will then be hired on a permanent basis, that individual generally would be considered an employee under the FLSA.

More Information
For additional information, visit The Wage and Hour Division Website at www.wagehour.dol.gov and/or call the toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Stay tuned to www.morrisandreynolds.com for the latest news affecting your insurance needs, and stay in close contact to your professional agents and underwriters here at Morris & Reynolds Insurance. We will do our very best to guide you in the right direction, keep you informed and assist you for many years to come.

Source: Department of Labor

ERISA: A Timeline for Compliance

ERISA Compliance Time LineWhen you offer retirement and health benefits to your employees, you need to make sure you’re providing the right documents to stay in compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

ERISA requires that you provide several types of documents to the Department of Labor (DOL) and plan participants. Noncompliance can result in fines, so make sure you’re providing the right documents at the right times.

Here’s a quick overview of the documents you need to stay in compliance:

Plan Document
The plan document contains a description of the terms and conditions for the operation and administration of the plan. It must be provided within 30 days of a written request.

Summary Plan Description (SPD)
The SPD contains plan information, including the benefits, rights and obligations of the covered participant. It should be written in a style and format that can be easily understood by the average plan participant. The SPD should be provided within 90 days of the participant being covered by the plan or the beneficiary receiving benefits, or within 30 days of a written request.

Summary of Material Modification (SMM)
The SMM describes material changes to a plan and any changes in the information required in the SPD. An updated SPD satisfies the SMM requirement. The SMM or updated SPD must be distributed to participants and pension plan beneficiaries no later than 210 days after the end of the plan year in which the changes were made, or within 30 days of a written request.

Form 5500
The Form 5500 satisfies various annual reporting obligations that plan administrators must meet under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. Form 5500 may be filed electronically on the DOL website. This form is generally due by the last day of the seventh calendar month after the plan year ends, or within 30 days of a written request. See www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/rdguide.pdf for details. Some plans are exempt from this requirement.

Summary Annual Report (SAR)
This report is a narrative report of the Form 5500 and includes a statement of the participant’s right to receive the annual report. Plans that are exempt from annual 5500 filing, as well as large and unfunded health plans, may be exempt from the SAR requirement. The SAR must be provided to participants and pension plan beneficiaries no later than 210 days after the plan year ends or two months after the Form 5500 due date.

More Information
For more information on how to stay ERISA compliant, contact Morris & Reynolds Insurance at 305.238.1000, or visit our website’s ERISA Compliance page.

Agencies Plan to Issue Final Rules for SBC Requirements

On March 31, 2015, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) announcing their intention to issue final regulations for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) and uniform glossary requirement. These regulations will finalize the proposed regulations from Dec. 22, 2014.

The ACA requires these disclosure tools—the SBC and uniform glossary—to help consumers compare available coverage options. The requirement to provide them applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

Health plan issuers must provide the SBC to applicants and enrollees free of charge. The SBC is a concise document that provides simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage.

The final regulations are expected to be released in the near future and will apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016).

The updated template and related documents, including sample language and instructions, for the SBC and uniform glossary will not be issued until January 2016. The updated template will then apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Until further guidance is issued, the previously updated template provided on the DOL’s website on April 23, 2014, continues to be authorized.

The March 31 FAQ guidance leaves a lot of uncertainty for employers in regard to their SBC documents. The changes included in the final regulations may require health plans to update their SBC documents before the new template is released.

The forthcoming final regulations may address this issue. In some cases, the Departments have provided temporary enforcement safe harbors when guidance is not issued sufficiently in advance of an effective date. However, at this time, no safe harbors or other relief has been provided on this issue.

DID YOU KNOW
On May 4, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2015-30 to announce the inflation-adjusted limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) for calendar year 2016.The following limits apply for 2016:

  • The HSA contribution limit is $3,350 for self-only and $6,750 for family.
  • The minimum deductible for high deductible health plans (HDHPs) is $1,300 for self-only and $2,600 for family.
  • The maximum out-of-pocket for HDHPs is $6,550 for self-only and $13,100 for family.

Plan Offerings Now Diverging by Group Size
A new trend of health plan offerings has emerged over the past few years, according to a new report from Zywave Inc. Group size appears to be a determining factor in whether employers are offering more generous health plans or working on implementing more cost-sharing strategies for health benefits.

Large organizations—with more than 500 lives—tend to offer generous health plans, likely in an effort to use their benefits packages as recruiting and retention tools in a market that is becoming increasingly fierce.

Smaller groups are cutting back on benefits and using cost-sharing efforts with employees. This trend of leaner benefits with smaller groups is likely an effort to bring down expenses associated with rising health care costs and other costs related to the ACA.

More Information
Stay tuned to www.morrisandreynolds.com for the latest news affecting your insurance needs, and stay in close contact to your professional agents and underwriters here at Morris & Reynolds Insurance. We will do our very best to guide you in the right direction, keep you informed and assist you for many years to come.