Rhode Island Court Clarifies Sunday Premium Pay Laws, Holds Employer Liable for Back Pay and Assesses Penalty

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact

The Rhode Island Superior Court recently issued a decision that clarifies the Sunday premium pay laws and regulations in Rhode Island. In affirming a Department of Labor and Training (DOLT) decision on appeal, a Superior Court judge declared DOLT regulations related to the vestigial Sunday work permit requirements a nullity. The judge further determined that the employer’s reliance on those regulations and associated guidance from DOLT did not provide the employer with a basis for relief from back pay and penalties assessed for failing to compensate employees in accordance with the Sunday premium pay laws.

Before 1998, Rhode Island law prohibited employers from requiring employees to work on Sundays, except for work that was of absolute necessity or that was performed pursuant to a permit issued by DOLT in cases of economic necessity. The law further provided that employees who worked on Sundays pursuant to a permit were to be paid at least one-and-one-half times their normal rate of pay. Additionally, the law afforded DOLT the authority to exempt by regulation any class of employers it determined should be exempted due to their operations or size. DOLT issued regulations relating to the old, work permit law, defining various terms and exempting various employers. As those employers were exempt from the permit requirements, they were also exempt from the requirement to pay time and a half to their employees when operating pursuant to a permit.

In 1998, the Rhode Island General Assembly substantively amended the law to eliminate the absolute necessity and DOLT permit requirements for operation on Sundays. The new statute, as then and now in effect, requires that work performed on Sundays and holidays be paid at time and a half.

In 2002 and again in 2007, DOLT re-filed its old regulations relating to the work permit law and defining “absolute necessity,” despite the significant change in the law eliminating those provisions. Nothing in the new statute, however, expressly repealed those old regulations. Effective in 2008, DOLT issued new regulations relating to exemptions for work on holidays and Sundays in conformity with the new statute. Like the new statute, however, the new regulations did not expressly repeal the old regulations.

The old regulations exempted certain public utilities (by classifying their operations as “absolutely necessary”), as well as businesses licensed or regulated by the federal government, from the Sunday work permit laws. DOLT issued letters in 2005 and 2007, both of which confirmed that public utility companies remained exempt from the Sunday premium pay requirements after the 1998 amendment, notwithstanding the fact that the amendment eliminated the “absolutely necessary” provision.

Park Row, the employer in the recent decision, owns and operates a parking garage that is open seven days per week, servicing the Providence Train Station pursuant to an agreement with Amtrak. Two garage attendants filed complaints with DOLT in 2010 because Park Row did not pay them time and a half for their hours worked on Sundays. Park Row claimed that it relied on DOLT’s longstanding practice of exempting parking garages and public utilities from the Sunday premium pay requirement, as documented in the two advisory letters from DOLT and in the old regulations. The DOLT hearing officer, however, determined that the Sunday pay requirements under the new law applied to Park Row and ruled in favor of the complainants. The case then volleyed between the Superior Court on review, DOLT on remand, and, most recently, the Superior Court on review again.

In the Superior Court’s most recent decision, Judge Carnes affirmed DOLT’s decision, including its award of back pay and imposition of a 25 percent administrative penalty. The decision establishes that the pre-1998 Sunday work permit requirements were altogether abolished by the amended law. Thus, the old regulations that were republished in 2002 and 2007 had no legal force and were absolute nullities, in spite of their continued publication by DOLT.

The court also held that DOLT was not bound by its prior letter interpretations because those interpretations were grounded on mistake and were in conflict with the applicable law. Park Row had argued that DOLT should have been equitably estopped from enforcing the Sunday premium pay requirements against it in light of DOLT’s fairly recent, contrary interpretations of the statutes in its 2005 and 2007 letters. The Superior Court, however, found that the DOLT official who wrote the advisory letters had no actual or implied authority to assert that the old regulations were still valid and to offer an interpretation of them, because the 1998 legislative amendments rendered the old regulations void, even if the amendments did not expressly void them. Thus, the DOLT official’s advice was an ultra vires act that had no legally binding effect and afforded Park Row no basis for relief on a theory of estoppel as against a government entity.

In addition, the Superior Court on review upheld the administrative penalty of 25 percent assessed by DOLT. The court found the penalty reasonably related to Park Row’s failure to abide by the Sunday premium pay laws and was not an abuse of discretion by DOLT.

Key Takeaways

All Rhode Island employers must ensure that their Sunday pay practices comply with the most recent law, effective in 1998, and the new DOLT regulations, effective in 2008, that apply to it.  The old regulations, despite continued availability and publication, are void.

Generally, Rhode Island employers must pay their employees time and a half for hours worked on Sundays. Current Rhode Island laws and regulations provide some exemptions to the Sunday premium pay requirements, including exemptions for the following: manufacturers that operate continually, seven days a week; taxi and livery companies that operate 7 days a week and 24 hours a day; qualified fueling operators, maintenance technicians, and car rental agencies at T.F. Green Airport; gas stations approximate to major interstate highways that operate 7 days a week and 24 hours a day and provide fuel sales, vehicle servicing, and a convenience store or restaurant; qualified churches or places of worship; individuals providing health care; restaurants and hotels; and exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers may also petition DOLT for an exemption through a procedure set forth in the new regulations.

Violations of the Rhode Island Sunday premium pay laws, even if the result of a good-faith reliance on DOLT regulations and advisories, may subject an employer to an assessment of back pay and administrative penalties.

Andrew E. Silvia is an associate in the Boston office of Ogletree Deakins.

- See more at: http://blog.ogletreedeakins.com/rhode-island-court-clarifies-sunday-premium-pay-laws-holds-employer-liable-for-back-pay-and-assesses-penalty/#sthash.S4CbvguU.dpuf

The Rhode Island Superior Court recently issued a decision that clarifies the Sunday premium pay laws and regulations in Rhode Island. In affirming a Department of Labor and Training (DOLT) decision on appeal, a Superior Court judge declared DOLT regulations related to the vestigial Sunday work permit requirements a nullity. The judge further determined that the employer’s reliance on those regulations and associated guidance from DOLT did not provide the employer with a basis for relief from back pay and penalties assessed for failing to compensate employees in accordance with the Sunday premium pay laws.

Before 1998, Rhode Island law prohibited employers from requiring employees to work on Sundays, except for work that was of absolute necessity or that was performed pursuant to a permit issued by DOLT in cases of economic necessity. The law further provided that employees who worked on Sundays pursuant to a permit were to be paid at least one-and-one-half times their normal rate of pay. Additionally, the law afforded DOLT the authority to exempt by regulation any class of employers it determined should be exempted due to their operations or size. DOLT issued regulations relating to the old, work permit law, defining various terms and exempting various employers. As those employers were exempt from the permit requirements, they were also exempt from the requirement to pay time and a half to their employees when operating pursuant to a permit.

In 1998, the Rhode Island General Assembly substantively amended the law to eliminate the absolute necessity and DOLT permit requirements for operation on Sundays. The new statute, as then and now in effect, requires that work performed on Sundays and holidays be paid at time and a half.

In 2002 and again in 2007, DOLT re-filed its old regulations relating to the work permit law and defining “absolute necessity,” despite the significant change in the law eliminating those provisions. Nothing in the new statute, however, expressly repealed those old regulations. Effective in 2008, DOLT issued new regulations relating to exemptions for work on holidays and Sundays in conformity with the new statute. Like the new statute, however, the new regulations did not expressly repeal the old regulations.

The old regulations exempted certain public utilities (by classifying their operations as “absolutely necessary”), as well as businesses licensed or regulated by the federal government, from the Sunday work permit laws. DOLT issued letters in 2005 and 2007, both of which confirmed that public utility companies remained exempt from the Sunday premium pay requirements after the 1998 amendment, notwithstanding the fact that the amendment eliminated the “absolutely necessary” provision.

Park Row, the employer in the recent decision, owns and operates a parking garage that is open seven days per week, servicing the Providence Train Station pursuant to an agreement with Amtrak. Two garage attendants filed complaints with DOLT in 2010 because Park Row did not pay them time and a half for their hours worked on Sundays. Park Row claimed that it relied on DOLT’s longstanding practice of exempting parking garages and public utilities from the Sunday premium pay requirement, as documented in the two advisory letters from DOLT and in the old regulations. The DOLT hearing officer, however, determined that the Sunday pay requirements under the new law applied to Park Row and ruled in favor of the complainants. The case then volleyed between the Superior Court on review, DOLT on remand, and, most recently, the Superior Court on review again.

In the Superior Court’s most recent decision, Judge Carnes affirmed DOLT’s decision, including its award of back pay and imposition of a 25 percent administrative penalty. The decision establishes that the pre-1998 Sunday work permit requirements were altogether abolished by the amended law. Thus, the old regulations that were republished in 2002 and 2007 had no legal force and were absolute nullities, in spite of their continued publication by DOLT.

The court also held that DOLT was not bound by its prior letter interpretations because those interpretations were grounded on mistake and were in conflict with the applicable law. Park Row had argued that DOLT should have been equitably estopped from enforcing the Sunday premium pay requirements against it in light of DOLT’s fairly recent, contrary interpretations of the statutes in its 2005 and 2007 letters. The Superior Court, however, found that the DOLT official who wrote the advisory letters had no actual or implied authority to assert that the old regulations were still valid and to offer an interpretation of them, because the 1998 legislative amendments rendered the old regulations void, even if the amendments did not expressly void them. Thus, the DOLT official’s advice was an ultra vires act that had no legally binding effect and afforded Park Row no basis for relief on a theory of estoppel as against a government entity.

In addition, the Superior Court on review upheld the administrative penalty of 25 percent assessed by DOLT. The court found the penalty reasonably related to Park Row’s failure to abide by the Sunday premium pay laws and was not an abuse of discretion by DOLT.

Key Takeaways

All Rhode Island employers must ensure that their Sunday pay practices comply with the most recent law, effective in 1998, and the new DOLT regulations, effective in 2008, that apply to it.  The old regulations, despite continued availability and publication, are void.

Generally, Rhode Island employers must pay their employees time and a half for hours worked on Sundays. Current Rhode Island laws and regulations provide some exemptions to the Sunday premium pay requirements, including exemptions for the following: manufacturers that operate continually, seven days a week; taxi and livery companies that operate 7 days a week and 24 hours a day; qualified fueling operators, maintenance technicians, and car rental agencies at T.F. Green Airport; gas stations approximate to major interstate highways that operate 7 days a week and 24 hours a day and provide fuel sales, vehicle servicing, and a convenience store or restaurant; qualified churches or places of worship; individuals providing health care; restaurants and hotels; and exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers may also petition DOLT for an exemption through a procedure set forth in the new regulations.

Violations of the Rhode Island Sunday premium pay laws, even if the result of a good-faith reliance on DOLT regulations and advisories, may subject an employer to an assessment of back pay and administrative penalties.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact
more
less

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.