Important New Compensation Laws for 2018

I Could get in Trouble for THAT?!?

It may come as a surprise that managers do not have complete freedom when it comes to how they pay their employees.  Mostly everyone knows you must pay minimum wage for most positions, and now we are all more familiar with the overtime rules of FLSA than we ever wanted to be.  But did you know there are other rules, and these rules vary by state, or even by city, so if you have employees in multiple states you need to really understand the local laws, or you could find yourself in a heap of trouble.

SHRM, one of the nation’s two top HR Associations (the other is World at Work) recently published an article about salary history bans.  For the full article see SHRMs HR Magazine, March 2018.

Here are the highlights:

These laws will make salary survey data 1,000x more important as employers will have no other way to accurately gauge the market pay level for a given position.  They will know if they are underpaying (no acceptances) but how will they know if they are overpaying?!

In addition to these laws, employers should also be aware that California carries special documentation requirements for commission plans (“commission” in the technical and legal sense applies only to incentive compensation calculated as a percent of revenue or margin…all other forms are called “bonuses” according to CA law, but compensation professionals prefer the blanket term “incentive compensation” to cover all forms of variable, performance-based pay.)

There are laws in several states that may leave you owning an employee pay if they terminate employment (voluntarily or involuntarily) and you have not specified in a signed plan document the exact terms for when an incentive payment is payable.  Our advice is always to have a signed plan document that states the employee must be employed on the day the incentive check is sent to payroll for them to receive payment.  Even this may not fully protect you in your state, so you should have your plan doc reviewed by your local labor attorney.

There is another common brokerage practice that, while not technically illegal, could raise some significant headaches for an organization later on…namely, allowing (or not prohibiting) your sales staff from paying cash bonuses to their assistants.  As the employer of both parties, you are very likely still responsible to pay payroll taxes on the cash payment to the sales assistant.  This may, or may not, be covered by the payroll taxes paid on the initial payment to the sales rep but you probably don’t want to take the chance that the IRS says it isn’t as we all know they want their piece whenever money changes hands.  It also makes it difficult to calculate benefits for the sales assistant who does not have all of his or her pay available to use for the calculation and could create challenges if the sales assistant claims unemployment. And, doing a compensation change becomes a nightmare because you, as the employer, don’t really know how much money any of your people are actually getting or keeping!  Could you reduce a sales reps’ commission and instead pay the assistant a higher bonus…sure…the cash under the table is already doing that, but you don’t know by how much!  But, it seems the far bigger risk here (especially in the #MeToo era) is a claim of discrimination or harassment.  What kind of “good job” is being rewarded and are you 100% sure your sales reps are being completely professional and fair in terms of how they decide which assistant gets what money?  How will you defend yourself if a claim is made otherwise (and we all know a disgruntled employee isn’t going to just sue the sales rep – they will sue the company that employs the sales rep and has ultimate responsibility for the employees’ actions – deep pockets).

If you’ve not had a good sit down with your labor attorney recently, 2018 is probably a very good time to do so…just to be sure you are aware of the changes and have made sure you are not exposing yourself to undue risk.


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