Obama Doubles Overtime Exemption Level to $47,476

The Obama Administration’s new overtime rule will double the salary threshold for “white collar” workers to $47,476. The current exemption, set in 2004, is $23,660. The new threshold that will impact 4.2 million salaried workers goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Under the new rule, the threshold will automatically increase every three years.

Business groups say the new rule will force millions of salaried professionals to be reclassified as hourly wage workers. They argue that small businesses, nonprofits, and public sector employers will be specially hurt. The U.S Department of Labor estimates businesses will end up paying workers an additional $1.3 billion a year.

The final overtime rule was published on May 23 by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Under the final rule, an automatic escalator to the salary threshold will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020. The benchmark for the salary adjustment is the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage census region, which is currently in the south. Based on that formula, the Department of Labor estimates the new threshold will be $51,168 in 2020.

The rule also updates the total annual compensation level above which most white-collar workers will be ineligible for overtime. That level is set to the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, or from the current $100,000 to $134,004 per year.

For workers with salaries above the new threshold, employers will continue to use the same duties test to determine whether or not the workers are entitled to overtime pay.

In its fact sheet explaining the rule, Labor provides businesses a “choice” under the new rule:

  1. Increase their employees’ salaries to the $47,476 threshold.
  2. Pay workers the time-and-a-half overtime premium for every hour beyond 40 per week.
  3. Limit workers to a 40-hour work week.

Some groups assert that market considerations over time will prove the paycheck benefits an illusion. To curb costs, some businesses will simply forbid employees from working over 40 hours. They may also have to cut back other expenses such as non-cash benefits or suppress the base pay itself.

Beyond frustrating ambitious individuals willing to tackle longer hours in efforts to rise into management ranks, the rule will “force millions of workers into time-clock or hourly-tracking arrangements even if they themselves prefer the freedom and perks of salary status.” See The High Cost of Obama’s Overtime Edict, Cato Institute, May 20, 2016.

The US Chamber of Commerce issued the following statement on the new rule:

Despite the modifications, the dramatic escalation of the salary threshold, below which employees must be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week, will mean millions of employees who are salaried professionals will have to be reclassified to hourly wage workers. Small businesses, nonprofits, and public sector employers will be especially impacted as they will have the hardest time finding more income to cover the increased labor costs, even if they will have a longer time to implement the new requirement. Furthermore because the threshold will increase every three years, the impact on these employers will continue to ratchet up. This will result in charities providing fewer services to those in need, local governments having to reduce services and raise taxes, and small businesses having to curtail operations or plans to expand. The Department of Labor failed to accurately assess the impact this regulation would have on these, and other, employers.

Also see comments by WMC’s Director of Health and Human Resources Policy Chris Reader.