LEGAL: Texas court nullifies Obama-era OT rate hike. What’s next?

By Jeff Jones
Special to the UCBJ

On Aug. 31, 2017, in Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor, 2017 WL 3780085 (S.D. Tex.), a federal court in Texas formally nullified the Obama administration’s dramatic revisions to the federal overtime rules.

The court held that the previous administration exceeded the authority Congress gave it when it dramatically expanded the number of people entitled to overtime pay by more than doubling the minimum salary requirement for the “white collar” exemptions.

The same court had previously granted an injunction, preventing the rules from going into effect as scheduled late last year. Many employers already had made big changes to comply with the anticipated rules. But the Court’s latest decision – capped by an announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice that it would not file an appeal, even though the previous administration had announced that it would appeal the injunction – made it final.

The $47,476 per year minimum salary that employers would have had to pay in order for an employee to be considered exempt from overtime is no more: the law now reverts to the former level of $23,660 per year, coupled with an examination of the employee’s actual job duties.

Prior to the Court’s ruling, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta already had published a notice indicating that the Department was contemplating changes to the new overtime rules.

The court’s decision certainly relieves pressure to make further changes, but the Department of Labor (DOL) will likely decide to revisit the overtime rules, last revamped in 2004 during the George W. Bush Administration. A request for information is underway as the DOL suggests that it intends to build a record for new rule-making.

Some of the key issues include what methodology to use for determining new salary thresholds, as well as the impact on the companies that implemented the 2016 regulations anyway.

In his confirmation hearing, DOL Secretary Acosta suggested that the DOL may issue rules with a more moderate salary threshold increase, probably in the low $30,000 range.

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