The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced today that it was publishing a Request for Information (RFI) asking employers and other interested parties to provide information and ideas about the overtime exemptions. The DOL’s RFI signals an interesting development in the saga of revising the overtime rule. In short, revisions to the overtime rule are not dead, but we may be back at square one.
As you likely know, the new overtime rule that was set to take effect on December 1, 2016, would have raised the minimum salary level for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $913 per week ($47,476 per year). Before the rule could go into effect, however, a federal district judge in Texas issued an order stopping implementation of the rule nationwide. The judge’s order suggested that the DOL lacks the authority to set any minimum salary level for the so-called white-collar exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Last December, the DOL under the Obama Administration appealed that order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn the injunction.
After the Trump Administration took over in January, it became unclear whether the DOL would continue with its appeal of the nationwide injunction on the overtime rule before the Fifth Circuit, or if it would instead withdraw the appeal, essentially allowing the injunction to stand. However, on June 30, 2017, the DOL, under new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, filed a reply brief in support of the appeal.
As explained in its June 30th reply brief, the DOL argued that it has the authority to set a minimum salary threshold for the exemptions, an issue that the federal district judge questioned in his November 22, 2016 injunction order. The DOL, however, wrote that it has “decided not to advocate for the specific salary level ($913 per week) set in the final rule at this time and intends to undertake further rulemaking to determine what the salary level should be.”
By publishing the RFI, the DOL again seeks public comment to essentially begin anew the whole process of revising the overtime rule. Secretary Acosta has indicated in other forums that the DOL was not opposed to raising the minimum salary levels for the white-collar exemptions, just not to the high level set in the 2016 rule. With the publication of the RFI, it is clear that the DOL wants to rework the exemption tests and seeks input from businesses, employees, and interested associations and groups on what those tests should be.
This is an excellent chance for employers to be heard. This DOL will likely be more receptive to resolving the burdens and hardships expressed by businesses in implementing changes to the overtime exemptions so I would expect that the agency will seek to simplify the exemption tests and offer sufficient time for employers to implement them. That said, the DOL may need to fast track the new rulemaking process so that it is ready to implement a replacement rule when litigation over the existing rule is resolved.