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If you are unsure whether a contract employee should be classified as exempt from overtime regulations or nonexempt, it will likely be harder to get definitive answers from the Department of Labor (DOL). According to a March 24 statement from the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the DOL will no longer issue fact-specific opinion letters regarding the wage and hour regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Previously, employers could submit specific facts regarding how to handle an employment situation under the FLSA, and the DOL would respond with a fact-specific opinion letter. According to the statement, the DOL will now respond to such requests with references to statutes, regulations, and interpretations of cases relevant to the employer’s situation, but they will no longer analyze the facts of a specific situation.

Employers often counted on opinion letters to serve as proof of their good-faith efforts to properly classify employees should their decisions ever land them in court. According to an article in Human Resources Executive Online, Employment attorneys believe the DOL is becoming less employer-friendly, a suspicion supported by the fact that the DOL is also launching a new campaign to crack down on wage and hour violations and to educate employees about their rights under the FLSA.

In light of this news, it’s more important than ever to reference the exempt requirements provided on the Department of Labor Web site to determine whether a contract employee should be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week. When in doubt, employers should always seek legal counsel regarding sticky wage and hour questions.

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