“I’m Just an Intern!” DOL Changes Course and Adopts Primary Beneficiary Standard for Intern Compensation CasesDetermining when an unpaid intern is really an employee has been a moving target for the last several years. However, on January 5, 2018, the Department of Labor announced that its Wage and Hour Division will now use the “primary beneficiary” test to determine employee status.

What is the primary beneficiary test? This is the standard numerous appellate courts have adopted over the last several years. The DOL’s announcement is a change in policy from the agency’s six-factor test adopted in 2010, which was widely challenged and several times rejected by courts. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit adopted the “primary beneficiary” test instead of the DOL’s position.

This issue has been percolating for several years (we have written about it here and here). Now that the DOL is getting in line with the seven-factor primary beneficiary test, it is worth a refresher on what factors to consider in whether an intern can be unpaid:

  1. Do the intern and employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation for the job?
  2. Does the internship provide training that would be similar to that given in an educational environment?
  3. Is the internship tied to a formal education program with coursework and/or academic credit?
  4. Does the internship fit into the intern’s academic calendar?
  5. Is the length of the internship limited to a period where they are provided with beneficial learning?
  6. Does the intern’s work assist or complement the work of paid employees instead of displacing them?
  7. Does the intern understand that the intern is not automatically entitled to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship?

This change does not make it open season to set up unlimited unpaid internships. Those free interns can still sue you and maybe win, depending on the facts of the case. If you want to use unpaid interns, the best bet is still to set it up through the intern’s school and see about academic credit. If that is not a viable option, the safest course is still to pay interns at least minimum wage and overtime as appropriate.

Happy Thanksgiving and the Many Things for Which We Are ThankfulBefore everyone gets out of the office to their various homes and families to celebrate the holiday, we wanted to review the year and count our blessings. Not only are we thankful that our families and colleagues in our Houston and Tampa offices weathered the storms safely, we are also thankful for the following legal stuff:

1. The DOL is not about to change the wage and hour laws.

Does anyone else remember the panicked calls last Thanksgiving week when the Texas judge put the brakes on a regulation that was going to increase the salary basis test? We are all thankful that will not happen this year. Although we still don’t know what, if anything, will happen on that front we will keep you posted.

2. Finally a court has said the ADA is not about leave.

Despite the EEOC’s insistence otherwise, the Seventh Circuit stepped up to the plate and said extended leave is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. As we all know, you still need to consider if a limited amount of leave will get the employee back to work but we are thankful that we have some new case law on this front.

3. Harvey Weinstein doesn’t work for us.

This story has horrified many but given all employers a wake-up call. We are grateful for the opportunity to train more people and try to make America a better place to work.

4. The NLRB has a new direction.

Maybe the new Board won’t tell employees that it is okay to swear at your boss on Facebook or nitpick employer policies quite so much.

5. You’re not going to be the employer of someone else’s employees.

DOL has withdrawn its prior guidance on independent contractor and joint employer liability, and Alabama’s Rep. Byrne has introduced a bill to “Save Our Small Businesses.”

6. Legalized marijuana has made questions about drug policies so much more interesting.

Even though it isn’t legal in many states, the fact that employees can legally ingest marijuana many places (including Florida) and take their chances on the looming random drug screen has spiced up our lives. While the law will continue to develop in this area, we are grateful for the very interesting questions we have received.

7. People other than our mothers read this blog.

(Okay, some of our moms are reading and might boost the numbers a little bit.) Since 2016, we have published more than 130 articles and had more than 230,000 reads, according to aggregate reports from Lexology and JD Supra. We have received recognition in The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog 2017 competition, the ABA Journal’s Web 100 Ranking, and numerous quotations in other publications. We enjoy bringing you this information and love it when you tell us it is helpful or tweet it to someone else.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Labor & Employment Insights blog team!

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part:  Fifth Circuit Rules on Compensability of Pre-Shift Wait TimeWhile the Portal-to-Portal Act sounds more like a science fiction movie than a wage statute, it comes into play every day for hourly employees. Enacted in 1947 in response to litigation following the relatively new (at the time) Fair Labor Standards Act, the act attempts to provide rules for when employees must be paid when they may not be actually performing their duties. Specifically, FLSA prohibits employees from seeking wages for time spent:

  • Traveling to and from the actual place where they perform the principal activities of their job, and
  • Activities which are preliminary or postliminary to those work activities.

The purpose of the law was to only compensate employees for activities integral and indispensable to their work.

Prior Court Decisions

Case law after the passage of the act further defined what counted and what didn’t. For example, courts held that for employees who manufactured batteries and worked with dangerous chemicals and fumes, time showering and changing clothes after work counted as integral and indispensable to the job and should be paid. However, courts held that time waiting to don protective gear (not the time actually spent putting on the gear) was not compensable under the Portal-to-Portal test.

More recently, courts have addressed post-shift security screenings of employees to see if that waiting time was compensable. In Integrity Staffing Sols., Inc. v. Busk, the Supreme Court held that since mandatory security screenings of warehouse employees’ were not related to their jobs of retrieving and packaging products for shipment, the time waiting for the post-shift security screenings was not compensable. Other state courts have followed suit.

So What Did the Fifth Circuit Do?

On November 9, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion dealing with construction workers on an oil drilling operation. The plaintiffs were scaffolding workers that had to park in a remote lot and ride company buses to the refinery. While their shifts started at 7 a.m., the buses sometimes delivered them to the refinery earlier, and they had to wait around until the shift started. They filed an action arguing that the time they had to wait between being dropped off and the start of the shift was compensable because they were not allowed to perform any work during that time, but it was beneficial to the employer.

The Fifth Circuit held that the test for Portal-to-Portal compensability was whether the wait time was integral and indispensable to the principal activities they were employed to perform. Here, plaintiffs erected and dismantled scaffolding. During the wait time, they were not undergoing safety training, donning safety equipment or completing paperwork—all of that was done after 7 a.m. and paid. Instead, most of the workers testified that they used the wait time to “chat” or “smoke.” They argued that since the wait time was required by and benefited the employer, they should be paid for it.

The court disagreed. It held that under the Busk decision, the fact that an employer required an activity and that it may benefit the employer was not enough to make it compensable. Instead, the workers had to show that the preliminary wait time was integral and indispensable to their work erecting and dismantling scaffolding. The proof did not show that it was, and therefore they were not entitled to compensation for it.

What to Do with Waiting Employees?

If there are things that your employees are having to do before or after a shift, you need to be sure of what they are actually doing. If they are waiting for something like a post-shift security screening, that time may not be compensable. If they are donning safety equipment or cleaning off after a dangerous activity, it may be compensable. This decision shows that it is important to have well-defined rules as to when a shift begins and what is required of an employee pre- or post-shift.