Many retailers use bonus programs to incentivize employee performance. With respect to bonuses paid to non-exempt employees (i.e., those employees who are entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act), the retailer must then determine whether it owes additional overtime on the incentive bonus.
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Earlier this month, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) dropped its defense of an Obama-era regulation that sought to increase the salary level for overtime-exempt employees from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year. The regulation had been set to take effect in November 2016, but a last-minute preliminary injunction issued by a federal district court in Texas stayed the implementation of the regulation.

In the preliminary injunction ruling, the district court ruled that the new $47,476 salary threshold exceeded the scope of the DOL’s authority because such a high salary level had the effect of making an employee’s salary—and not their primary duty—the determinative factor in the exemption inquiry. Importantly, the district court’s preliminary injunction ruling went well beyond the appropriateness of the particular salary level at issue in the new regulation, and instead expressed the broader view that the DOL lacked the authority to impose any salary level requirement (regardless of the level of salary chosen) because the relevant provision of the FLSA focused on an employee’s duties, not their salary. 
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