How the New Federal Overtime Rule Died — And What it Means for Workers

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Updated on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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A new federal overtime rule had many American companies scrambling at this time last year. The federal regulation, which was set to pass on Dec. 1, 2016, would have required businesses to begin paying overtime wages (1.5 times an employee’s hourly rate) to any full-time salaried employee earning less than $47,476.

This threshold previously had been more than twice as low, with companies owing overtime pay to employees with yearly salaries under $23,660. Then, after many employers had already responded to the regulation by offering raises and adjusting exemption statuses, a federal judge in late 2016 temporarily blocked the rule, halting its effects nationwide.

Less than a month ago, that same judge permanently struck down the Obama-era regulation, leaving the state of overtime pay in limbo. The increased threshold would have affected 4.2 million workers, according to the Department of Labor, so it’s clear this decision will have wide-reaching effects.

Here’s a breakdown of what we know.

Does the rule still stand a chance?

The short answer is no. While the federal government might have tried to fight the court’s ruling, that doesn’t seem to be the Trump administration’s intention.

A week after Judge Amos Mazzant — an Obama appointee on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas —struck down the overtime rule, the Department of Justice announced that it was withdrawing its appeal, essentially agreeing to move on from the issue.

The Department of Labor has done the same. The agency reopened public comment on overtime rules and exemption requirements back in July, with the response period ending on Sept. 25. Suzanne Boy, an employment lawyer with the firm Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, based in Fort Myers, Florida, says this is an indication that the Obama rule has been defeated.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s dead,” she says.

What’s next for businesses and their employees

There were several ways in which employers responded to the rule. Some gave raises, but others cut hours. Some companies that had switched salaried employees to hourly pay to make them exempt from overtime eligibility changed them back, Boy says.

“I have actually not heard of any client that has taken a raise away as a result of this change,” she says.

Christa Hoskins, a 26-year-old graphic designer in Fort Myers, was given a $10,000 pay bump last year, partially due to the new overtime rule. She tells MagnifyMoney her employers are letting her keep the bump, even though the regulation was struck down.

“I received last year’s pay raise due to this rule possibly coming into play since my work anniversary so happened to be around the same time,” Hoskins says.

Boy says keeping the original $23,660 threshold could help some employees in the long run, because the proposed rule change would have forced many companies to cut costs at the expense of their lowest-earning workers. For example, many employees earning thousands of dollars under what would have been the new $47,476 threshold — such as $30,000 per year — might not have received raises. Instead, they could have seen their hours scaled back or their pay structures altered to help employers circumvent the new overtime policy.

“I think that it would not have been the saving grace that it was intended to be,” Boy says. “I think a lot of people wouldn’t have obtained the big raise that the rule was touted to be.”

The fact that the Department of Labor is asking for public comments means another new rule could be on the way, with the agency likely taking at least a few weeks to analyze and consider the responses.

It’s tough to judge what a new regulation would look like. According to a statement made by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta earlier this year, it seems possible the Trump administration could place the overtime threshold somewhere around $30,000. This figure would essentially  take the previous amount of $23,660 and adjust for inflation.

Some people are concerned it isn’t enough. Steve Zieff, a San Francisco-based employment attorney with Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, says he thought the Obama administration’s threshold, while not necessarily high enough, was likely better than a potential new rule.

“I think even the current Department of Labor recognizes that the salary level is way too low,” says Zieff, who specializes in overtime pay for white-collar employees. “But I’m fearful they’re not going to raise it to a meaningful level.”

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