The Department of Labor is now attempting to rewrite a controversial Obama administration rule regulating the overtime threshold for white-collar workers.
The department announced on Monday it is revisiting the Obama administration proposal, which would have more than doubled the threshold at which employers must pay overtime. President Barack Obama's regulators attempted to raise the minimum from $455 per week to $913 and establish automatic annual increases in the rate, spurring legal challenges from state governments and industry groups.
Federal Judge Amos Mazzant, an Obama appointee, blocked the amended regulation from going into effect in November 2016, citing the steep salary levels, as well as the legislative language of the Fair Labor Standards Act, to prevent the department from adopting the regulation.
"The Department has exceeded its authority and gone too far with the Final Rule. Nothing in [the law] allows the Department to make salary rather than an employee's duties determinative," Judge Amos Mazzant said in the ruling. "Nothing in the EAP [executive, administrative, or professional] exemption indicates that Congress intended the Department to define and delimit with respect to a minimum salary level."
The Obama administration appealed the decision, but in September the Justice Department under President Trump announced it would no longer defend the proposal. Mazzant's past rulings could be read to prevent the department from taking salary into consideration when setting overtime pay rules. The Labor Department has asked the court to grant an abeyance in the case to give it time to change the proposal in the hope that it will retain its power to regulate overtime rules by setting a more modest salary threshold.
"We are asking the court to stay the appeal because the department is in the process of reconsidering the rule," a DOL spokesman said. "We are asking the court to respect the department's authority to set the rule."
In July, the department indicated its willingness to yield on the Obama administration proposal by opening up public comment from employers, unions, and other stakeholders to debate the effects of an update to the minimum overtime rules. The department has fielded more than 100,000 comments over the past three months and is currently reviewing them, according to the spokesman.
The administration hopes to avoid legal turmoil by tempering the rule with a more incremental threshold. The abeyance is designed to prevent the court from declaring salary levels inconsequential to setting future regulation. The department intends to drop the appeal if it is able to set a regulation that is more palpable to employers.
"The intention is for the case to be mooted once the department revisits [the regulation]," the spokesman said.
No timeline has been set as to when DOL expects to announce new regulations.