Parishes get creative ahead of new federal overtime rule

| Bridget Ryder | July 6, 2016 | 3 Comments

With five months until it goes into effect, parishes are preparing to implement a new U.S. Department of Labor rule that roughly doubles the salary threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime pay.

The Obama administration announced in the middle of May that the threshold for exempt workers would go from earnings of $23,660 annually ($455 weekly) to $47,476 annually ($913 weekly) Dec. 1.

“The main concerns of parishes is that they have a lot of staff members who are now going to be eligible for overtime starting Dec. 1 that weren’t previously eligible for overtime,” said Joseph Kueppers, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ chancellor for civil affairs. “At the archdiocese, we just try to limit overtime. It will affect parishes more because they have more ebb and flow.”

Kueppers offered as an example a youth minister taking the parish youth group to a weeklong camp. With the constant vigilance required to lead such a trip, a youth minister could easily work 12 hours or more a day. Now parishes will either have to raise the salaries of youth ministers to $47,476 or pay them for the extra hours worked that week.

Fred Fox, parish business administrator at St. John the Baptist in Savage, has been strategizing how to handle this kind of situation, but it isn’t the only instance in which a parish employee might work overtime, he said.

“Sometimes even the bookkeeper, at certain times of the year, might be pushing 55, 60 hours a week,” Fox said.

Positions at St. John the Baptist that will also be affected by the changes are the director of the parish preschool and a couple of administrative assistants. For one position, the parish has chosen simply to raise the employee’s salary over the exempt threshold. Other positions will be brought into regulation more creatively. Since non-exempt employees can’t legally take “comp time” to even out the weeks when they exceed 40 hours of work, Fox has planned for unpaid vacation time to make up for the weeks when the employees earn more for working longer hours. This seems to suit employees, he said.

“Everyone’s going to get paid for every hour they work,” he said. At the same time, “Everyone would like to have a little more time off, as long as they make the same amount of money.”

He will also be adjusting responsibilities and job duties to try to even out work loads and is considering bringing in some additional help for the busy weeks.

At St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Mark Dittman, the parish administrator, is examining additional options for adjusting to the new regulation. Though non-exempt workers are typically paid hourly, which means they must record and report each hour of work, it is possible to have salaried non-exempt workers. In this case, though they are not paid in correspondence to the hours worked, they must keep track of their time spent working and report it. If they work more than 40 hours in a week, they have to be compensated.

This solution allows employees to retain one of the advantages of a salary over an hourly wage — freedom from the time clock. “Some people complain they want to be exempt,” said Dennis Merley, an employment law attorney at Felhaber Larson in Minneapolis and the archdiocese’s employment lawyer. “They are used to coming and going as they please, working at home.”

Dittman has been getting input from parish employees on the matter, too.

“It’s not my intention simply to impose on them a new setup,” he said. “They do the work.”

Almost any solution will require supervisors to more strictly manage and monitor employees’ workload and hours spent on duty. Dedicated employees may also have to exercise restraint, Merley said, by sticking to the rules restricting their hours.

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Category: Local News

  • Gretchen

    Pay in the Church has been ridiculously low for too long. It’s unreasonable to expect people to work 50 or 60 hours a week and not even pay them $47,476. If certain functions or events at the parish level have to be curtailed then so be it. It’s a matter of social justice to provide people with a decent living wage and reasonable working hours that still leave time for family. Hooray for this new law!

  • Bob White

    This article seems to be all about the Catholic Church’s attempt to circumvent the new law. How very disappointing. The Church should be celebrating this law as a victory for working people

  • Cory Springhorn

    It’s odd that the administrative assistants in Savage would be affected by the change, as it’s unlikely that they would have been properly classified as exempt to begin with. Meeting the salary threshold is only one part of qualifying for exemption. They would also have to meet a duties test, and it’s highly unlikely (though not impossible) that an administrative assistant would meet that test. A bookkeeper is also highly unlikely to qualify for exemption under the duties test. Even the subheading of this article is highly misleading in referencing “the salary threshold at which workers would be exempt from overtime pay.” It should say “could be exempt from overtime pay.” Earning at least $913 weekly will be a necessary but not sufficient condition for exemption.