Just a quick update on a couple of our recent stories for you wage and hour litigation junkies:

Back on December 5, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a case in which two former University of Pennsylvania student athletes claimed that they and other intercollegiate athletes were employees

iStock_000015026880XSmall.jpgBack in August, the National Labor Relations Board threw the higher education community a curve ball ruling that student assistants at Columbia University were employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and were therefore entitled to organize a union. (For more information see our alert on the case.) An obvious question left unanswered by the Columbia University case was whether and under what circumstances students may also be entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. On Monday, December 5, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on at least part of that issue, holding that two former University of Pennsylvania athletes were not employees of either the University or the NCAA under the FLSA. Berger v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al.

Historical Context

The FLSA itself is distinctly unhelpful in assessing when students might be treated as employees, as it defines “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer,” and “employer” as “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” The statute goes on to define “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.”

Taken literally, that exceedingly broad definition would seem to sweep in all students who perform anything one could describe as “work.” That could include, for example, students who build sets in the drama department, run the student radio station, or do research work as part of a graduate program. However, the U.S. Supreme Court long ago rejected such a sweeping interpretation of the FLSA, holding in Walling v. Portland Terminal Cothat the FLSA “cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his own interest an employee of another person who gives him aid and instruction.”  
Continue Reading

campus1610747MediumOne of the issues that colleges and universities are struggling with under the new FLSA overtime exemption rules is how to compensate residence hall directors. While responsibilities vary from institution to institution, residence hall directors generally are responsible for overseeing students living in a college or university residence hall. Their duties may include counseling students, applying and enforcing rules of conduct, coordinating and scheduling other workers, supervising student RAs, and similar responsibilities relating to the residence hall and its student residents. These positions can meet the “duties” test for exempt status under the administrative exemption, provided that they exercise the required level of discretion and independent judgment in the course of their duties. In some cases they might also qualify for an executive exemption if they supervise at least 2 or more other full-time employees (or more part-time employees whose hours are equivalent to two full-time workers). Residence hall director salaries usually are not large, in part because part of their compensation is typically provided in the form of free room and board. Residence hall directors are often required to live in their assigned residence hall. They often have extensive “on call” hours during which they are expected to be in or near their assigned residence hall, available to respond to any issues that may arise.

This combination of low salary and long “on call” hours is what makes these positions so difficult for colleges and universities under the new rules. Often the salaries for these positions fall far enough below the new minimum salary of $47,479 that a salary increase to the new minimum is not an option. Paying overtime may be equally cost-prohibitive if an employee is required to be “on call” in the residence hall and therefore potentially entitled to overtime pay for extended periods of each week, well beyond a typical 8-hour work day. So what can colleges and universities do with their residence hall directors under the new rules?
Continue Reading

Coach holding footballAs schools seek to adjust to the new Department of Labor overtime exemption rules and increased salary standards, nearly every institution has classification and overtime-calculation questions about athletic coaches and athletic trainer positions.  The NCAA (in conjunction with CUPA-HR) has now issued a helpful paper addressing exemption analysis and practical considerations applicable to these roles that can be found here.  The analysis identifies several options for potentially classifying coaches and athletic trainers as exempt from overtime, which hinge fundamentally on defining each individual’s “primary duty.”  That can be tricky, particularly for assistant coaches, given that (1) federal law defines primary duties as the “most important” (which may or may not be those that consume the most time) and (2) coaches are commonly assigned a wide variety of tasks and roles, depending on particular team needs, size of institution, or head coach preferences.  Definitive decisions about classification will thus continue to require case-by-case analysis of each coach’s particular situation, but the NCAA’s paper provides several helpful concepts to help frame such decisions.

Highlights of the exemption analysis include:
Continue Reading

iStock_000015026880XSmall.jpgAs we previously reported, the Department of Labor has now issued its long-anticipated final overtime exemption rules for white collar workers. In addition, the DOL published more detailed guidance for higher education institutions (.pdf) seeking to comply with the new obligations. As expected, the compensation adjustments mandated by the new rules require substantial effort to balance college and university budgetary constraints, workforce morale concerns, and legal compliance obligations in the next several months.

The DOL estimates that the new rule will result in approximately 35% of all current full-time, salaried workers being eligible for overtime based on their salary level alone. At the same time, increasing so many positions’ salaries to meet the new $47,476 threshold creates substantial concerns with salary compression on campus for positions already above that threshold.  To address such concerns and to minimize the need to comply with future increases of the FLSA salary threshold, many institutions of higher education are likely to seek to convert positions to non-exempt status; at the same time, they will need to address employee-morale concerns related to such a conversion and diligently manage the number of hours or methods of compensating for overtime wherever possible for budgetary reasons.

As schools determine the best approach for seeking to adjust to the new rules, the guidance issued yesterday as well as a white paper that we prepared earlier this year offer ample advice specific to higher education institutional needs and concerns.  Examples of key components of the guidance include the following:


Continue Reading

University signLast Wednesday, my partner Ed Druck and I hosted a webinar on wage and hour law for colleges and universities. (For those who missed it, you can check out the recording.) We had a great turnout and a wonderfully responsive audience. We were thrilled to receive nearly 50 questions, but could only get to a handful of them during the webinar. Over the next several weeks, we will try to answer a number of them here on the blog. If we don’t get to yours, please feel free to contact me or Ed

For those of you outside the realm of higher education, worry not: this will be worthwhile reading for you too, as the issues raised by our webinar audience apply to a wide range of employers. 

To kick off the Q&A, let’s start with a question we got from several of you about on-call time:

Q. Our Resident Advisors are treated as employees and paid through the payroll. During certain hours they are required to be accessible by phone, but not necessarily in their rooms. From midnight to 8:00 a.m., they are required to be in the dorm and available to maintain order or respond to calls from students. However, most of this time is spent on personal activities or sleeping. Do we have to pay for this time? If so, can we pay a lower “on call” rate of say $1 per hour?


Continue Reading