Home health and other health care providers paying or interested in paying workers different rates of work for time spent working with patients versus travel time or using other innovative pay practices should use care to verify their practices fully comply with federal and state wage and hour laws.
A December 21, 2018 Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) opinion letter that evaluated the FLSA minimum wage and overtime compliance of one such arrangement drives home this point.
In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), the WHD expresses reservations about whether the specific practices of the requesting employer for calculating overtime fulfill the FLSA overtime requirements under certain circumstances, but blessed the compliance of the practice of the employer with the FLSA minimum wage rules.
While only the employer that actually requested the ruling that resulted in the Opinion actually may rely upon the Opinion, the Opinion provides insights for other employers about how the WHD is likely to view the FLSA compliance of similarly styled minimum wage and overtime calculations made by another employer when paying a nonexempt hourly employee different rates of pay for different categories of work during the workweek.
FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Requirements Generally
The FLSA generally requires that employers pay covered, nonexempt employees receive at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour) for all hours worked. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). According to previously published WHD guidance, WHD will consider an employer to have fulfilled this requirement “if the employee’s total wages for the workweek divided by compensable hours equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.” See WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2004-8NA, 2004 WL 5303036, at *2 (Aug. 12, 2004); WHD Field Operations Handbook § 30b02.
In addition to the requirement to pay at least the minimum wage, the FLSA also requires that covered, nonexempt employees receive overtime compensation of at least one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for time worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). To determine the regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating the required overtime, an employer generally divides the employee’s “remuneration for employment” (subject to the exclusions in 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)) by the total hours worked for the workweek. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.109.
WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2-18-28
In WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28 (Dec. 21, 2018), WHD addressed its views regarding a home health provider’s practice for calculating the wages due to home health aide services that traveled to home health clients’ homes, who were required to travel to different client home locations during the workday. The employer establishes different rates of pay for time spent working with clients versus time spent traveling from location to location. To calculate weekly pay, that employer multiplied an employee’s time with clients by his hourly pay rate established by the employer for time spent working with clients. The employer then divides the product by the employee’s total hours worked, which includes both the client time and the travel time. The employer guarantees that the quotient meets both federal and state minimum wage rate requirements.
According to the facts published in the WHD Opinion Letter, the home health provider represented that a typical standard rate of pay is $10.00 per hour with a client including travel time,” and that “[i]f any employee works over 40 hours (total paid hours and [travel] time) in any given workweek, the employer pays the employee time and a half for all time over 40 hours at a rate of $10.00.”
Based upon the factual representations made by the home health agency, WHD ruled the employer’s compensation plan complies with the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements but expressed concern about whether the employer’s practices for calculating overtime complied with the FLSA.
Concerning the FLSA minimum wage compliance, the WHD found that the employers practice fulfilled the FLSA minimum wage requirements because even though the employee’s average hourly pay rate varied from workweek to workweek, the employer always ensured that the average hourly pay rate exceeded the FLSA’s minimum wage requirement for all hours worked.
In contrast, however, WHD expressed concern that the employer’s compensation plan could violate the FLSA’s overtime requirements under certain circumstances. WHD states in the Opinion that the employer will not pay all overtime due to employees whose actual rate of pay exceeds $10 per hour if the employer always assumes a regular rate of pay of $10 per hour when calculating overtime due. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.107.
The Opinion notes that “neither an employer nor an employee may arbitrarily choose the regular rate of pay; it is an “actual fact” based on “mathematical computation.” Walling v. Youngerman-Reynolds Hardwood Co., Inc., 325 U.S. 419, 424–25 (1945); 29 C.F.R. § 778.108.
On the other hand, the WHD Opinion also states that the employer’s compensation plan would comply with the FLSA’s overtime requirements for all employees whose actual regular rates of pay are less than $10 per hour, as an employer may choose to pay an overtime premium in excess of the required amount. See, e.g., Molina v. First Line Solutions LLC, 566 F. Supp. 2d 770, 779 (N.D. Ill. 2007).
Takeaways For Other Employers About Using Variable Pay Rates
While other employers actually cannot rely upon WHD Opinion Letter FLSA 2018-28, it nevertheless provides valuable insights for other health industry and other employers about the potential FLSA opportunities and pitfalls of using variable rates of pay for compensating hourly employees. The blessing of the minimum hourly rate compliance of the practices of the employer in the Opinion suggests that WHD would be likely to treat similar practices by other employers as compliant with the FLSA minimum wage requirements.
On the other hand, the concerns expressed in the Opinion about the practices of the employer for calculating overtime makes clear that employers needs to use caution when determining the rate of pay used for purposes of calculating overtime pay for workers that the employer compensates using variable pay rates during the week when the worker performed the overtime. The Opinion reflects that the WHD will not allow an employer to use an average rate of pay as the regular rate of pay for this purpose. Accordingly, employers using the variable rate of pay to compensate employees that work overtime should seek the advice of experienced legal counsel concerning the proper calculation of the regular rate of pay for overtime calculation purposes.
FLSA Risk Management Warranted For Other Common Practices
Aside from using caution to properly calculate and pay overtime for workers paid different rates for different types of work, home health, home care and other health care employers also need to use care to avoid other common FLSA and other wage and hour overtime violations. Widespread violations of the FLSA and other federal and state wage and hour laws have made home care, home health and health care industry employers popular targets for WHD wage and hour compliance audits and enforcement and private wage and hour litigations. FLSA violations identified by WHD as common within the health and home care industry include but are not limited to misclassification of workers as exempt, independent contractors or employees of other entities; improperly excluding travel time, training time, on call time, unauthorized hours worked, or other compensable hours of work, improperly providing “comp time” in lieu of payment of overtime, and more. See e.g., Fact Sheet #53 – The Health Care Industry and Hours Worked;
Changes in rules enacted in recent years heighten these enforcement exposures for home care, home health and other health care employers. For instance, beginning January 1, 2015, the Obama Administration extended the FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements to most certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, companions and other workers employed by agencies and other third-party employers to provide home care services. See Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay for Direct Care Workers.
In the face of these risks, home care and health care employers should use diligences to review and monitor their FLSA wage and hour worker classification, minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping, retaliation and other wage and hour compliance. These and other employers also should consider adopting or strengthening their use of arbitration agreements, strengthening contract compliance, audit, indemnification and other contractual safeguards in staffing and other outsourcing contracts and broadening employment practices and other liability insurance coverage to mitigate and manage these exposures.
For additional information, please contact the author or other qualified legal counsel with health industry wage and hour and other labor and employment experience.
About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized as a thought leader in health benefits and health care matters domestically and internationally. She has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes. As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.
Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.
Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping heath care, managed care and insurance, health IT and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.
Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.
A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance, compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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