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CDLE issues revised Wage Protection Act Rules

On March 16, 2020, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) issued amendments, effective that same day, to its prior Wage Protection Act Rules. The amendments added language that articulated the CDLE’s opinion that Colorado state law on the Joint Employer doctrine is and, in its opinion, has always been contrary to federal law.

COMPS Order 36 takes effect with some changes

Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards (COMPS) Order 36 took effect March 16, 2020 with some revisions and additional commentary by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

First, in another Statement of Basis, Purpose, Specific Statutory Authority, and Findings for Adoption as Temporary or Emergency Rules, the CDLE issued a multi-page detailed explanation of its opinion that Colorado state wage-hour law on the Joint Employer doctrine is and, in its further opinion, has been contrary to and stricter than federal law. The CDLE announced there it will soon commence regulatory rulemaking on the Joint Employer doctrine to further solidify its reading of Colorado state wage-hour law.

The Statement also clarified what information needs to be included in paycheck statement eliminating prior proposed requirements that CDLE concedes “make() no sense.”

In an email to stakeholders distributing the revisions on March 16, 2020, the CDLE also advised of grace periods it will permit in light of the on-going coronavirus events, as follows:

(B)       Division Operations, and Compliance Grace Periods

            As of now, the Division remains fully operational. Based in part on potential delays to employer internal operations that have been called to the Division’s attention, the Division has adopted the following policies to grant what leniency it can, within the confines of existing law, for the coming weeks.

(1)   COMPS-required paperwork (posters, handbook inserts, acknowledgements, etc.) – compliance by 4/16/20 will be sufficient. To the extent that COMPS requires new paperwork from employers (new posters, handbook inserts, acknowledgement forms, etc.), the Division will deem compliance within the first month of COMPS – i.e., by April 16th – to be sufficient to qualify as compliant.

(2)   No Division-initiated investigations of new COMPS rules until 4/16/20. While the Division by statute must investigate any claims filed with us, the Division’s “Direct Investigations” team launches its own investigations, based on tips, leads, and known problem sectors. For the first month of COMPS being in effect (i.e., until April 16th), Direct Investigations will not launch new investigations based on violations of new COMPS rules.

(3)   Deeming violations of new COMPS provisions rules non-willful if remedied by 4/16/20. As noted above, the Division cannot by statute reject a claim filed shortly after COMPS takes effect. But to the extent that a violation committed within the first month of COMPS is solely of a new obligation under COMPS, the Division will deem the violation not “willful” if the employer remedies it within the first month of COMPS – i.e., by April 16th.

(4)   Starting tomorrow, March 17th, no new “notices of claim” will be sent to employers until April 1st. This is for all wage claims, not just those related to COMPS. Because some employers may be currently struggling to keep up with mail receipt, the Division will postpone mailing any new “notice of claim” – the mailing that tells an employer that a claim has been filed against it – because by statute, a notice of claim starts a 14-day clock for the employer to avoid penalties by paying any wages due. A longer extension would risk backlogging claims, but the Division aims for this period of just over two weeks to postpone employers’ receipt of mail that starts a statutory deadline.

Restaurants and other employers with tipped employees, beware relying on DOL opinion letter

As previously posted, the DOL issued an opinion letter in 2019, purporting to jettison the Obama Administration’s 80-20 rule and expanding the ability to claim tip credits for tipped employees, specifically, during time when they do not earn tips (example, while wait staff vacuum and clean). Bloomberg BNA reports that opinion letter has met with rejection in the courts:

Restaurant chains have lost at least seven decisions over the last year in which federal district court judges refused to give deference to a 2018 Labor Department opinion letter advising restaurants to pay a lower minimum wage to tipped workers for tasks that don’t yield gratuities.

In most of those decisions, judges held that DOL wasn’t justified in turning its back on a standard that’s been in place for more than three decades.

Also as previously posted, the DOL issued a propose regulation to the same effect, which if finalized would become law, to which courts should defer in lawsuits.

Employers are reminded that Colorado law requires additional notice-posting to employees if a tip credit is to be claimed.

Colorado finalizes new wage order, COMPS Order no. 36, 7 CCR 1103-1 (2020)

As noted in a previous post, Colorado proposed a new wage order in 2019. On January 22, 2020, the Colorado Division of Labor and Employment finalized its new order — now called COMPS order #36 — effective March 16, 2020.

As noted in the previous post, COMPS order #36 is  radical overhaul of Colorado’s prior wage orders. Among other things the changes include:

  • A title change: Reflecting the fact that this new order addresses far more than simple wages, its title will change from the “Colorado Wage Order” (WO) to the “Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards Order” (COMPS).
  • COMPS 36 will now reach almost all private employers in Colorado. Previous WOs had applied only to the following four industries: retail and service, commercial support service, food and beverage, and health and medical. COMPS will apply to all employers as a general rule, unless the employer falls within one of the newly defined exemptions set forth in prosed Rule 2 of COMPS. Therefore employers who previously considered themselves exempt from the WOs should now review COMPS to determine if it will become covered.
  • Minimum guaranteed salary: If covered COMPS will increase the minimum guaranteed salary to $42,500, effective 7/1/20, well above that in federal law. COMPS minimum will rise steeply thereafter, each year, to $57,500 effective 1/1/26 and be adjusted thereafter per the CPI.
  • Changes to particular job-specific exemptions have been proposed.
  • Changes to the timing of required rest periods and a requirement that employees who are not allowed their 10-minute rest period receive pay not only for the 10-minute rest period but an extra 10 minutes pay.
  • Changes to the ability to take credits and the ability to charge for uniforms.
  • Changes to the fluctuating workweek method of calculating overtime.
  • Expansion of anti-retaliation protections.
  • Expansion of employer obligations as to “transparency,” “language inclusiveness” and posters.

In addition, the as-finalized COMPS order #36 dramatically expanded the definition of an “employee” and “employer” in Colorado — in apparent reflection of similar narrowing in California — by mandating that a worker will be deemed an “employee” not an independent contractor who otherwise meets all requirements to be an independent contractor but who performs work that is itself part of the company’s own regular business. The CDLE explained this “entirely new factor to the ’employee’ analysis'” in its Statement of Basis, Purpose, Specific Statutory Authority, and Findings in support of COMPS Order #36, as follows:

For example: if a retail clothing store hires an outside plumber on a one-time or sporadic basis to make repairs as needed, the plumber’s services are not part of the store’s primary work — selling clothes. On the other hand, when a clothing manufacturer hires work-at-home seamstresses to make dresses, from cloth and patterns supplied by the manufacturer, that the manufacturer will sell, or when a bakery hires cake decorators to work on a regular basis on custom-designed cakes, the workers are performing the “primary work” of the hiring business.

Other changes to the prior draft order include a rule that workers who are putting on and taking off work clothes and gear (so-called “donning and doffing” cases) are engaged in work and accordingly must be paid for the such time if it takes “over one minute” and if it is not clothes/gear that is “worn outside work as well. Additionally COMPS order #36 will effectively require that, when a 10-minute break is otherwise required, nearly all such workers will need to be made to take their 10-minute breaks every 4 hours. Only workers who work under collectively bargained agreements that say otherwise will be allowed to take breaks outside a 4-hour period, as can some workers who work for certain Medicaid-funded entities.

Perhaps most importantly the final order also implemented a slower increase in the required guaranteed minimum salary for overtime exempt person in 2020 and 2021, then a steeper climb in 2023 to reach the previously planned 2024 minimum salary of $55,000.

Source: final COMPS Order #36 as redlined by the CDLE against its prior draft.

Colorado criminalizes wage theft

Effective January 1, 2020, Colorado has criminalized wage thefts. This new law applies to “employers,” a term defined to be commensurate with the Fair Labor Standards Act’s coverage, and protects “employees,” as defined to exclude independent contractors.

Under this new law it will be a crime to:

  • willfully
  • refuse to pay or “falsely” deny “the amount of a wage claim, or the validity thereof, or that the same is due”
  • “with intent to secure for himself, herself, or another person any discount upon such indebtedness or any underpayment of such indebtedness”
    • “or with intent to annoy, harass, opress, hinder, coerce, delay, or defraud” the employee.”

Who may be charged with this crime? “Every employer or other person who intentionally, individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of a corporation or other person” who “pays or causes to be paid to any such employee a wage less than” that required.

This new crime will rise to the level of a felony if the amount at-issue equals or exceeds $2,000.

Employers, including all individuals involved in the payroll function and related decisions whether or not to pay wages, should anticipate that employees will seek to have such matters prosecuted, in addition to or instead of civil wage claims. This new Colorado law is all the more reason for employers to carefully review their wage compliance efforts.

Reminder, Colorado employers, new ban-the-box law will take effect soon

Colorado employers are reminded that Colorado’s new ban-the-box law will take effect September 1, 2019 for employers with more than 10 employees (then September 1, 20121 for all other employers). Together with the crop of other new Colorado employment laws this year, Colorado employers should:

  • Review and revise their handbooks, workplace policies, and hiring documents accordingly.
  • Review and revise their hiring and promotion practices.
  • Consider undertaking an audit of pay levels as encouraged now by HB19-085.
  • Review wage compliance practices.
  • Train supervisor, manager and HR accordingly.