WHD Issues Final Rule on Qualifying as a “Retail or Service” Establishment

Vicki Lambert's Profile

On May 18, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced a final rule to provide one analysis for all employers when determining whether they qualify as “retail or service” establishments for purposes of an exemption from overtime pay applicable to commission-based employees. 

Section 7(i) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides an exemption from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirement for certain employees of retail or service establishments paid primarily on a commission basis. Today’s rule withdraws two provisions from WHD’s regulations. The first withdrawn provision listed industries that WHD viewed as having “no retail concept” and thus were categorically ineligible to claim the section 7(i) exemption. The second withdrawn provision listed industries that, in WHD’s view, “may be recognized as retail” and thus were potentially eligible for the exemption. As the rule explains, some courts have questioned whether these lists lack any rational basis.  

As a result of the withdrawal of these two lists, establishments in industries that had been on the non-retail list may now assert that they have a retail concept, and if they meet the existing definition of retail and other criteria, may qualify to use the exemption. These other criteria include paying a regular rate at least one and a half times the minimum wage and providing commissions that comprise more than half the employee’s compensation for a representative period. Some establishments on the withdrawn non-retail list may have been deterred from availing themselves of the exemption and its compensation flexibilities. If establishments on the withdrawn non-retail list now qualify for the exemption, they have added flexibility regarding commission-based pay arrangements with their workers. For these employers and workers, they could consider whether, for instance, more commission-based pay is sensible.

Establishments in industries that had been on the “may be” retail list may continue to assert that they have a retail concept. Moving forward, WHD will apply the same analysis to all establishments to determine whether they have a retail concept and qualify as retail or service establishments, promoting greater clarity for employers and workers alike.

WHD is issuing this rule without notice and comment, and it will take effect immediately. Notice and comment and delaying the effective date are not required because both lists being withdrawn were part of WHD’s interpretive regulations and were originally issued in 1961 without notice and comment or a delay.