Vision Payroll

February 14, 2009

US Department of Labor Issues Opinion Letter on Bonuses and Overtime Rates

The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued Administrator signed Opinion Letter FLSA2008-12. Although Opinion Letters only apply to the exact set of facts and circumstances presented in each case, they are a valuable aid in understanding current interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This Opinion Letter discusses whether bonuses must be included in the regular rate of pay for overtime calculations under the FLSA.

On December 22, 2005, a city paid a bonus to generally all full-time emergency communications operators “in recognition of the high stress level of the employees’ duties.” The city had not previously promised this bonus, but the union representing the employees needed to approve it before payment. Since discretionary bonuses may be excluded from the regular rate of pay for overtime rate calculations, the Opinion Letter must resolve if the bonus be discretionary.

The city was concerned that even though it considered the bonus discretionary, it might be construed as non-discretionary since the city reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the union representing the workers on December 14, 2005 and did not pay the bonus until December 22, 2005. The DOL concluded that the bonuses were not issued “pursuant to the MOU, but rather used the agreement to formalize a decision previously made.” Therefore the bonus was considered discretionary and “excludable from the regular rate of pay under §7(e)(3).

State laws may provide rules that are more beneficial to the employee and must be followed. Contact Vision Payroll if you have questions about this Opinion Letter.

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