As it routinely does, the United States Department of Labor recently released to the media a report of another Texas employer who had to pay back wages to current and former employees for overtime violations. This time the company was Porter Ready Mix Inc., in Porter, Texas and the amount was $173,863. But it could have been almost any employer because the overtime laws are very difficult to understand and follow. The DOL gets more than 26,000 complaints a year and collected $224 million in back wages in fiscal year 2011. Some of its favorite targets are restaurants, construction companies, agriculture, hotels, healthcare providers, landscapers, preschools and other industries that pay lower wages, but no employer is immune. Porter Ready Mix’s mistake? It paid gravel truck drivers by the trip instead of by the hour.
If you as an employer are paying any employee in any manner other than by the hour and paying time and one-half for all hours over 40 worked in one week, you too could be facing a Department of Labor investigation soon. Paying employees by the day, by the trip, by travel time, by commission, by tips, by bonus, by incentive, even by weekly salary can put you in the hot seat. Salaried employees must fall into one of four or five narrow categories to be exempt from overtime. Many employers put employees on salary or another pay scheme without doing any analysis of whether failing to pay overtime is legal based on that particular employee’s job duties.
Don’t rely on your instinct, your competitors, your experience, your employee’s desires or any other resource other than the Fair Labor Standards Act when you set compensation for a new employee or when you are reviewing your current staff compensation. Do your research before you pay any employee on any basis other than hourly plus overtime.