By now you have probably heard that the Department of Labor’s regulations for the white-collar exemptions to overtime compensation were finalized and will be effective December 1, 2016. You are probably also aware that your company should be analyzing how its employees are classified to ensure it is prepared to comply with the regulations come December 1. What you may not have thought about is how your analysis (and any changes to employee exemption status) may impact your federal government contracts covered by the Service Contract Labor Standards (formerly the Service Contract Act).
The final overtime regulations implement significant changes to the salary threshold required for employees in order to be considered exempt. Specifically, the salary level for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions will become $913 per week or $47,476 annually. Although this is only half of the exemption analysis (which also requires employees meet a duties test), the DOL estimates that roughly 4 million workers will be affected by the change.
How Does the Service Contract Labor Standards Come Into Play?
The Service Contract Labor Standards (SCLS) generally requires contractors with covered service contracts pay their “service employees” a minimum wage and fringe benefits that have been determined by the Secretary of Labor as prevailing in the locality where the employee is working. These wages and fringe benefits are reflected in one or more wage determinations attached to the SCLS contract. However, only “service employees” are subject to the wage and fringe benefit requirements of the wage determination. Thus, properly classifying a worker as a service employee is extremely important for determining compliance with the SCLS.
“Service employees” are in turn defined as any employee that is not exempt from overtime under the administrative, executive, or professional exemptions. Thus, for government contractors, one very likely result of reclassifying employees from exempt to non-exempt under the new FLSA regulations is that these now non-exempt employees will also become subject to SCLS wage and fringe benefit obligations. The difficulty will be in aligning or mapping these now non-exempt “service employees” to the positions on the wage determination (or directory of occupations). Assuming these employees otherwise meet the duties test for the white-collar exemptions (which typically require higher level responsibility and decision-making), the directory of occupations and wage determinations likely do not currently contain positions of a similar nature. Thus, absent proactive action by the DOL, contractors may need to make conformance requests for covered contracts for these newly exempt positions.
What Should Contractors Be Doing Now?
It is important that contractors assess proper classification of its employees over the next few months to determine which positions may need to be reclassified as non-exempt from overtime starting December 1. In addition, contractors should assess the resulting increase in SCLS applicability for those employees that will now be considered “service employees” and ensure proposals and existing contracts account for any increased costs as a result.
The DOL has jurisdiction to pursue claims against contractors that fail to classify workers appropriately. For example, last week the DOL announced a $1.5 million settlement in back wages and fringe benefits with a contractor that allegedly misclassified workers subject to SCLS. Notably, the settlement also covers workers with 10 subcontractors.
While the consent findings reflect that the contractor will seek an equitable adjustment to account for its increased costs based on the applicability of SCLS to additional employees, being in the position of paying seven figures worth of back pay while waiting for the government to decide whether an equitable adjustment will be provided is certainly less than ideal. Contractors can be far better positioned when engaged in proactive analysis of proper employee classification along with ensuring that subcontractors are also aware of the applicability of SCLS.
About the Author
Marina Blickley is primarily focused in the Government Contracting and Non-Profit industries. She regularly assists clients in all aspects of employment and labor law including representation and defense of employers against claims of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation/whistleblower, and wage and hour violations before administrative agencies and state and federal courts.