Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Cash-in-Lieu of Health Benefits is Included in Rate Calculations Under FLSA

If you receive cash in lieu of healthcare benefits, you may be entitled to additional overtime compensation from your employer.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal recently ruled that cash payments made to employees who declined medical coverage had to be included in the regular rate used to calculate the employees’ overtime compensation.

In Flores v. City of San Gabriel, the Ninth Circuit ruled the City of San Gabriel willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to include cash payments for unused medical benefits in police officers’ overtime calculations. The court also ruled that money the City paid out to third parties for officers’ benefits had to be included in their overtime rate. Under 29 U.S.C. section 207(e)(4), payments to third parties or trustees made pursuant to a “bona fide plan” for providing health insurance benefits could be excluded from the regular rate used to calculate overtime. The court found that the City’s plan was not a “bona fide plan” because approximately 40% of the City’s total contributions were paid directly to employees, rather than received as benefits.

Many public employers give employees a cash incentive for opting out of employer-provided medical coverage. The court’s ruling in Flores establishes that such incentives must be included in the regular rate used to calculate overtime for employees who receive them.  Not many employers do this.

If your agency offers cash in lieu of medical benefits, you may have a claim for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages in an amount equal to the unpaid overtime (e.g. double damages) under the FLSA. While your agency may fix this issue going forward, you will likely need to file a lawsuit to recover backpay. Under the FLSA, an employee can only recover damages for unpaid wages that occurred within the last three years. As such, it is important to pursue an FLSA claim immediately.

If you are represented by our office and your agency offers cash in lieu of medical benefits, you should call our office or your union immediately to discuss the matter.