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More workers may become eligible for overtime under new federal rule
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More than 4 million U.S. workers will become eligible for overtime pay under rules issued Wednesday by the Obama administration.

Under the new rules, first released in draft form last summer, the annual salary threshold at which companies can deny overtime pay will be doubled from $23,660 to nearly $47,500. That would make 4.2 million more salaried workers eligible for overtime pay. Hourly workers would continue to be mostly guaranteed overtime.

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said small business owners must adjust to the rules.

“Because this is the federal government intervening in the labor market between employer and employee about wages, we should expect some unintended consequences will follow,” Evans wrote in an email. “The picture of salary wages and the cost of living is very different in Gainesville-Hall County, Georgia, from what you might expect in a high-cost location like San Francisco or New York, but this labor market intervention will apply across the country with equal force.”

Georgia Department of Labor statistics indicate the average weekly income in Hall County equates to $48,308 annually, just above the new overtime threshold.

The policy changes are intended to counter erosion in overtime protections, which date from the 1930s and require employers to pay 1 ½ times a worker’s regular salary for any work past 40 hours a week.

The new overtime rules are “a golden opportunity for employers to look at all their employees and independent contractors to make sure that they are properly classified,” Madeline Wirt, partner at Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker law firm in Gainesville, said.

Wirt said her firm has been advising clients for months to prepare for the changes.

“Most of our clients have been getting ready, not knowing what the salary would be, but knowing it was in that range,” she said.

She added she expects the new federal rules to affect nearly all companies.

“I think it’s gigantic,” Wirt said.

Aliza Gravely, a local staffing manager in caregiving, said similar rules for her industry from late 2015 have hurt the income of caregivers.

“We’re not a fan because it has cut most of our caregivers’ hours in half,” Gravely said. “It’s changed their lives, and not for the good.”

She said many of those workers make minimum wage and will be cut off at 40 hours, so they will lose income and not see the time-and-a-half overtime pay.

John Ettinger, owner of Inman Perk Coffee on the downtown Gainesville square, said he thinks the change is fair.

“Those are the people who need it the most,” Ettinger said.

He said all of his employees work less than 40 hours, and if they worked overtime he would have to pay them time-and-a-half.

The White House estimates that the rule change will raise pay by $1.2 billion a year over the next decade. In addition, some companies may instead choose to reduce their employees’ hours to avoid paying the extra wages.

“Either way, the worker wins,” said Vice President Joe Biden on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Wirt said many employees are working over 40 hours.

“Are you going to pay overtime for that or are you going to have some limits on overtime?” she said of employers.

“I can’t stress enough to look at all your employees,” Wirt said, not just those who are directly affected.

Business groups said the changes will increase paperwork and scheduling burdens for small companies and force many businesses to convert salaried workers to hourly ones in order to more closely track working time. Many employees will see that as a step down, they said.

“With the stroke of a pen, the Labor Department is demoting millions of workers,” said David French, a senior vice president for the National Retail Federation. “Most of the people impacted by this change will not see any additional pay.”

The overtime threshold was last updated in 2004 and now covers just 7 percent of full-time, salaried workers, administration officials said. That’s down from 62 percent in 1975.

The higher threshold, which will take effect Dec. 1, will lift that ratio back to 35 percent, Labor Secretary Tom Perez said. Perez has spearheaded the administration’s effort and worked on formulating the rule for the past two years.

The new rule is intended to boost earnings for middle- and lower-income workers, Perez said, which have been stagnant since the late 1990s. Overtime pay hasn’t gotten as much attention as nationwide efforts to increase the minimum wage, but it could have a broad impact.

“This in essence is a minimum wage increase for the middle class,” said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.

Overtime has become a sore point for many managers, assistant managers and management trainees in the fast food and retail industries.

Despite their titles, they have complained in lawsuits against chains such as Chipotle and Dollar General that they spend the vast majority of 50- or 60-hour weeks working cash registers, mopping floors or performing other tasks typical of regular employees. Yet they don’t get paid time and a half when they clock more than 40 hours in a week.

Still, Tammy McCutchen, a lawyer who represents employers and a former Labor Department official during the George W. Bush administration, said the rule could leave many workers with less flexible schedules. That’s because employees eligible for overtime are only paid for the hours they work.

And an hourly worker “who takes an afternoon off to attend a parent-teacher conference will not be paid for that time, but an employee (who is exempt from overtime) will be paid her full guaranteed salary,” she said in congressional testimony last week.

Perez said the administration took several steps in the final rule to address business concerns: The threshold was lowered from the original proposal of $50,440; bonus payments can count toward the threshold; and the rule will have a long phase-in before taking effect Dec. 1.

Mara Fortin, president and CEO of seven Nothing Bundt Cakes bakeries in San Diego, said she might give raises to her “superstar” managers to lift their pay above the overtime threshold. But she would have to cut back on end-of-year bonuses she frequently gives to offset the cost.

Fortin has 14 salaried managers and assistant managers among her 110-member staff. The new rule will create problems for managers, some of them newer, who take longer to get their work done, she said. She might have to cut their base pay so they make the same amount as they do now, even including overtime.

“We can’t pay you time and a half because you’re slow,” she said. “This is extremely frustrating for me.”

Assistant Metro Editor Clark Leonard and News Reporter Ron Bridgeman contributed to this article.

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