Salaried staff stands to gain on overtime edict

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Washington-The Department of Labor has revised the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), applying new law likely to affect 6.7 million salaried workers, including those in the veterinary profession.

Washington -The Department of Labor has revised the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), applying new law likely to affect 6.7 million salaried workers, including those in the veterinary profession.

By Aug. 23, all salaried employees earning less than $23,660 per year, or $455 per week, will be guaranteed overtime protection as mandated by the FLSA revision, referred to as "FairPay" rules. This means salary-based technicians, assistants and receptionists who fall below the earnings cutoff are entitled to overtime pay. The threshold, up from $8,060 a year, is expected to result in $375 million in additional annual earnings for employees, federal officials say.

"Most veterinarians already pay time-and-a-half," says Phillip Seibert of Veterinary Practice Consultants based in Calhoun, Tenn. "But overtime is not necessarily being paid to the salaried employee who doesn't track hours using a time sheet. The new rules strengthen the belief that salaried workers should be keeping time cards just as hourly workers are required to do."

Phillip Seibert

Corrective measure

FLSA, enforced by the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, oversees federal labor laws but gives states authority to make them stricter. California, for example, not only defines overtime as working more than 40 hours per week, but anyone working more than eight hours per day is entitled to time-and-a-half pay.

The law might cost the profession, but it benefits practices in terms of morale, says Dr. Michael H. Riegger, chief medical officer at Northwest Animal Clinic Hospital and Specialty Practice in New Mexico and DVM Newsmagazine contributor.

"I think it's reasonable to presume that 10 percent of veterinary practice employers out there take advantage of employees. The law is trying to remedy that," he says. "This has been an issue for a long time, even for people over the salary threshold. You can assume that your employees are probably up to speed with this stuff, so in this litigious society, the veterinarian has to listen."

Exemptions rarely apply

There are some exemptions to the overtime mandate, but most do not apply to the veterinary profession. Businesses generating less than $500,000 in gross sales per year and those not involved in interstate commerce are released from the FLSA charge. For veterinary practices, simply receiving veterinary supplies from out-of-state vendors is deemed interstate commerce.

"You answer a phone call, unpack a box, care for an animal whose owners did not board it to make an out-of-state trip, and you are involved in interstate trade," Seibert says.

Exemptions also factor when the employee is a professional and can work independent from the practice or when a job description falls in a professional, supervisory or managerial category.

"These exemptions are rare for the veterinary practice; an employee in the supervisory categories needs, for example, to not do anything other than oversee the practice at least 70 percent of the time," Seibert says. "In 99 percent of cases, if a salaried employee complains to the labor board, they'll side with the employee. The fact remains that we work them to death when we put them on salary."

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