Nearly 80 years ago, the United States enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to introduce the 40-hour work week, establish a minimum wage, guarantee overtime for specific jobs, and end oppressive child labor. Over the years various amendments--such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967--have been added to further improve the life and work environment of workers.
On May 18, 2016, President Obama and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced the final rule updating overtime pay regulations for many white collar workers. As a result, companies across industries are working to comply with the Dec. 1, 2016 deadline, while also bolstering their bottom line.
These changes aim to extend overtime pay protections to more than 4 million workers in the first year of implementation. The new regulations come into effect on Dec. 1, 2016, but since that falls on a Thursday, companies will need to make sure to have it effective the pay period before.
How does this impact EHS?
In 2013, EHS Today published an article entitled Top 5 trends in Workplace Safety Management, identifying the number one industry trend as “Coping with Greater Workloads.” We all see it--it’s the new norm, and has only gotten worse in the intervening years. EHS managers are required to wear multiple hats that may include quality and sustainability, in addition to their EHS accountabilities, thus increasing the number of work hours and overtime. Companies are losing expertise and institutional knowledge through retirement and attrition, and are putting extra pressure onto accountable employees and extra stress on the management system.
These upcoming regulations could make this workload balancing act trickier, both for any EHS managers who fall below the $47,476 annual pay bar and are considered exempt, but also, perhaps more likely, for their staff. Any exempt staff below that bar will now either have to 1) be given a raise so that they make at least $47,476 annually, 2) begin tracking their time to be paid overtime, or 3) be limited to 40 hours per week moving forward. Obviously the potential impacts here for workload (and budgets) could be significant, and decisions will have to be made at the organizational level about how to proceed.
The changes will also impact other workers in the organization, who may be finding themselves in a similar pinch, forced to prioritize their tasks differently if their roles have been impacted by this ruling. EHS initiatives may not make the cut, so additional planning and communication will be needed to make sure everyone is on the same page and that safety remains a priority.
What’s the Way Forward?
The main takeaways for EHS managers at this point are to:
- Have the issue on your radar
- Be talking to your HR and company management to see how they plan to handle implementation, and
- Begin thinking through and planning for the impact on your department’s work.
One other possible solution is to allow EHS consultants (like Antea Group) to help fill the expertise gap and alleviate time management issues by providing flexible and specialized support. This could include day-to-day EHS deliverables, compliance assistance, training and support, policy and procedure development, and whatever else is needed on a full-time or part-time basis.