By:  Kara Maciel, Adam Solander and Lindsay Smith

As the Employer Mandate compliance deadline looms for employers under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and employers are closely monitoring employee hours, it is critical that employers take appropriate and lawful steps to record all hours worked by an employee.  If employers try to play games and manipulate how time records are maintained, they could find themselves in hot water under both the ACA and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). 

In what appears to be one of the first lawsuits challenging how hours are recorded under the ACA, an employee filed a putative collective action against Sun Holdings, LLC, a fast food franchisee.  The employee, a busboy at a Golden Corral restaurant, alleged that his managers required him to work under his real name and an alter ego to avoid paying him for all hours worked.  This set-up allegedly was designed to avoid having to pay overtime compensation under the FLSA and to count him as a full-time employee eligible to receive health benefits under the ACA.   

Accurate calculation and recording of the total number of hours worked by an employee is essential to compliance with the provisions of both the FLSA and the ACA.  Under the FLSA, an employer must pay an employee at least the minimum wage for all hours worked.  An employer must also provide overtime compensation at one and a half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, unless that employee is classified as exempt.  Therefore, if an employer attributes some amount of time worked by one employee to an alter ego through which the employee cannot claim his time, the employee may be deprived of the overtime compensation he has earned.

Additionally, the ACA only provides benefits to employees who reach a certain amount of hours and binds employers with a certain amount of employees meeting that hour threshold.  The ACA applies to employers with 50 or more employees working 30 or more hours per week.  Only those employees working 30 hours or more per week are entitled to the health care coverage required by the ACA.  Therefore, an employee may lose the benefits to which he would otherwise be entitled if a portion of his hours worked is attributed to someone else, causing him to fall below the 30-hour minimum.  Furthermore, an employer may avoid the obligations of the ACA if it records 30 hours or more of work time for less than 50 of its employees. Although the Employer Mandate, which puts the employer-provided coverage into effect, does not kick in for large employers until January 1, 2015, applicability of the ACA depends upon the size of the affected workforce during the prior calendar year.      

A claim of this kind could be very costly for an employer because, as is the case here, such claims are often brought as collective actions.  In this case, the employee filed his claim on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated.  Although the amount of unpaid wages and liquidated damages he seeks only amounts to approximately $15,000.00, the franchisee owns roughly 400 restaurants in Texas and Florida.  Thus, a court award, or even a settlement, could be quite significant.

These allegations demonstrate the importance of correctly tracking employee hours and ensuring that an employee receives compensation and benefits in accordance with the total amount of hours worked.  Often times, this may mean training your managers as to the correct protocol for recording and compensating hours worked and monitoring to ensure managers are following that protocol. 

Importantly, this case forecasts what could be an emerging and growing area of litigation under the ACA, so employers must be ever vigilant about putting into practice protocols that ensure they are complying with the ACA and not manipulating hours to avoid the Employer Mandate’s requirements.  Considering that an analysis under the Employer Mandate’s look-back methodologies should be done this year, any changes to employees’ hours should be closely reviewed with legal counsel.  Although overtime compensation and benefits coverage can create increased financial burdens on employers, the cost of not complying can be even greater. 


Continue Reading Playing with Employees’ Hours Could Get You in Hot Water under the ACA and FLSA

By: Barry Guryan

As widely reported, employers of all sizes are challenged in complying with the myriad of complex regulatory and compliance obligations under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). As our blog readers are well aware, certain large employers, as defined in the ACA, must provide “essential health benefits” that meet the law’s standards

Kara M. Maciel, Member of the Firm and co-editor of the Hospitality Labor and Employment Law blog will participate in a panel discussion at the Hospitality Law Conference on February 10, 2014 in Houston, Texas.   In this featured panel  –  "Deciphering Government Regulations (ACA, ADA, WARN Act, Sanctioned Person/Entity Challenges) and Their Impact

By John F. Fullerton III

As we reported on Epstein Becker & Green’s Financial Services Employment Law Blog, the Department of Labor – OSHA announced earlier this month that employees protected by the whistleblower provisions in any one of the 22 statutes administered by OSHA, from claims of retaliation under the OSH Act based on workplace safety and health complaints, to financial fraud whistleblower retaliation under the Affordable Care Act or Sarbanes-Oxley, can now file their retaliation complaints with OSHA on-line.  Specifically, in a December 5, 2013 press release, OSHA revealed a new web-based tool available for whistleblowers to submit their complaints to OSHA directly on-line, and introduced the on-line complaint form itself.

In the press release, David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, explained that “[t]he ability of workers to speak out and exercise their rights without fear of retaliation provides the backbone for some of American workers’ most essential protections.  Whistleblower laws protect not only workers, but also the public at large and now workers will have an additional avenue available to file a complaint with OSHA.”

The online form, which is already live, provides employees an additional, and for many a much easier, way to file a retaliation complaint to trigger OSHA’s investigative process.   Previously, employees had to mail a written complaint, visit an OSHA office in-person, or place a telephone call to 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or to one of OSHA’s Regional or Area offices.  Now that filing a complaint is faster, more efficiency, and linked to the familiarity of the internet, we expect an increase in the likelihood that some employees, who might not otherwise have filed complaints, may now do so.

The online form asks employees to list or select from a set of choices the basic information about their complaints.  The complaints will then be followed-up on by investigators, who will contact the whistleblowers to obtain any more detailed information needed by OSHA to determine how to proceed against the employer.

This new accessibility to OSHA for whistleblowing on-line is similar to the on-line ease with which employees can provide tips regarding wrongdoing or apply for bounties under some of the same statutes, such as tips to the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission under the Dodd-Frank Act.  This on-line whistleblower retaliation form is another step in OSHA’s broader effort to make employee protections and information about those protections more accessible to the public.  For example, OSHA had already set up a webpage to educate employees about the whistleblower protections available to them.

The online complaint tool and other web-based outreach to employees is having precisely the effect that OSHA desired, as the number of whistleblower complaints filed with OSHA has grown each of the last five years (i.e., ever year under the current Administration), from 2,160 in FY 2009, to 2,920 in FY 2013.  OSHA released a comprehensive data set reflecting whistleblower activity over the past decade.  In addition to growth in the total number of complaints filed, the number of complaint determinations made by OSHA also grew substantially in 2013 – by nearly 15% to 3,272 (up from 2,865  in FY 2012).  In 2013, however, case determinations by OSHA were much more likely to be made in favor of the whistleblower than in recent years.  Still, cases that OSHA found to have “merit” continue to be rare  —  only 2.3% (or 76 complaints) in FY 2013 were found to have merit.


Continue Reading OSHA Introduces On-Line Filing Tool to Facilitate More Whistleblower Complaints