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e-CFR data is current as of November 30, 2020

Title 29Subtitle BChapter VSubchapter BPart 778Subpart C → Subject Group


Title 29: Labor
PART 778—OVERTIME COMPENSATION
Subpart C—Payments That May Be Excluded From the “Regular Rate”


Bonuses

§778.208   Inclusion and exclusion of bonuses in computing the “regular rate.”

Section 7(e) of the Act requires the inclusion in the regular rate of all remuneration for employment except eight specified types of payments. Among these excludable payments are discretionary bonuses, gifts and payments in the nature of gifts on special occasions, contributions by the employer to certain welfare plans and payments made by the employer pursuant to certain profit-sharing, thrift and savings plans. These are discussed in §§778.211 through 778.214. Bonuses which do not qualify for exclusion from the regular rate as one of these types must be totaled in with other earnings to determine the regular rate on which overtime pay must be based. Bonus payments are payments made in addition to the regular earnings of an employee. For a discussion on the bonus form as an evasive bookkeeping device, see §§778.502 and 778.503.

[33 FR 986, Jan. 26, 1968, as amended at 76 FR 18858, Apr. 5, 2011]

§778.209   Method of inclusion of bonus in regular rate.

(a) General rules. Where a bonus payment is considered a part of the regular rate at which an employee is employed, it must be included in computing his regular hourly rate of pay and overtime compensation. No difficulty arises in computing overtime compensation if the bonus covers only one weekly pay period. The amount of the bonus is merely added to the other earnings of the employee (except statutory exclusions) and the total divided by total hours worked. Under many bonus plans, however, calculations of the bonus may necessarily be deferred over a period of time longer than a workweek. In such a case the employer may disregard the bonus in computing the regular hourly rate until such time as the amount of the bonus can be ascertained. Until that is done he may pay compensation for overtime at one and one-half times the hourly rate paid by the employee, exclusive of the bonus. When the amount of the bonus can be ascertained, it must be apportioned back over the workweeks of the period during which it may be said to have been earned. The employee must then receive an additional amount of compensation for each workweek that he worked overtime during the period equal to one-half of the hourly rate of pay allocable to the bonus for that week multiplied by the number of statutory overtime hours worked during the week.

(b) Allocation of bonus where bonus earnings cannot be identified with particular workweeks. If it is impossible to allocate the bonus among the workweeks of the period in proportion to the amount of the bonus actually earned each week, some other reasonable and equitable method of allocation must be adopted. For example, it may be reasonable and equitable to assume that the employee earned an equal amount of bonus each week of the period to which the bonus relates, and if the facts support this assumption additional compensation for each overtime week of the period may be computed and paid in an amount equal to one-half of the average hourly increase in pay resulting from bonus allocated to the week, multiplied by the number of statutory overtime hours worked in that week. Or, if there are facts which make it inappropriate to assume equal bonus earnings for each workweek, it may be reasonable and equitable to assume that the employee earned an equal amount of bonus each hour of the pay period and the resultant hourly increase may be determined by dividing the total bonus by the number of hours worked by the employee during the period for which it is paid. The additional compensation due for the overtime workweeks in the period may then be computed by multiplying the total number of statutory overtime hours worked in each such workweek during the period by one-half this hourly increase.

§778.210   Percentage of total earnings as bonus.

In some instances the contract or plan for the payment of a bonus may also provide for the simultaneous payment of overtime compensation due on the bonus. For example, a contract made prior to the performance of services may provide for the payment of additional compensation in the way of a bonus at the rate of 10 percent of the employee's straight-time earnings, and 10 percent of his overtime earnings. In such instances, of course, payments according to the contract will satisfy in full the overtime provisions of the Act and no recomputation will be required. This is not true, however, where this form of payment is used as a device to evade the overtime requirements of the Act rather than to provide actual overtime compensation, as described in §§778.502 and 778.503.

§778.211   Discretionary bonuses.

(a) Statutory provision. Section 7(e) (3)(a) of the Act provides that the regular rate shall not be deemed to include “sums paid in recognition of services performed during a given period if *  *  * (a) both the fact that payment is to be made and the amount of the payment are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the period and not pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly *  *  *”. Such sums may not, however, be credited toward overtime compensation due under the Act.

(b) Discretionary character of excluded bonus. In order for a bonus to qualify for exclusion as a discretionary bonus under section 7(e)(3)(a) the employer must retain discretion both as to the fact of payment and as to the amount until a time quite close to the end of the period for which the bonus is paid. The sum, if any, to be paid as a bonus is determined by the employer without prior promise or agreement. The employee has no contract right, express or implied, to any amount. If the employer promises in advance to pay a bonus, he has abandoned his discretion with regard to it. Thus, if an employer announces to his employees in January that he intends to pay them a bonus in June, he has thereby abandoned his discretion regarding the fact of payment by promising a bonus to his employees. Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate under section 7(e)(3)(a). Similarly, an employer who promises to sales employees that they will receive a monthly bonus computed on the basis of allocating 1 cent for each item sold whenever, is his discretion, the financial condition of the firm warrants such payments, has abandoned discretion with regard to the amount of the bonus though not with regard to the fact of payment. Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate. On the other hand, if a bonus such as the one just described were paid without prior contract, promise or announcement and the decision as to the fact and amount of payment lay in the employer's sole discretion, the bonus would be properly excluded from the regular rate.

(c) Promised bonuses not excluded. The bonus, to be excluded under section 7(e)(3)(a), must not be paid pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise. For example, any bonus which is promised to employees upon hiring or which is the result of collective bargaining would not be excluded from the regular rate under this provision of the Act. Bonuses which are announced to employees to induce them to work more steadily or more rapidly or more efficiently or to remain with the firm are regarded as part of the regular rate of pay. Most attendance bonuses, individual or group production bonuses, bonuses for quality and accuracy of work, bonuses contingent upon the employee's continuing in employment until the time the payment is to be made and the like are in this category; in such circumstances they must be included in the regular rate of pay.

(d) Labels are not determinative. The label assigned to a bonus does not conclusively determine whether a bonus is discretionary under section 7(e)(3). Instead, the terms of the statute and the facts specific to the bonus at issue determine whether bonuses are excludable discretionary bonuses. Thus, regardless of the label or name assigned to bonuses, bonuses are discretionary and excludable if both the fact that the bonuses are to be paid and the amounts are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the periods to which the bonuses correspond and they are not paid pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly. Examples of bonuses that may be discretionary include bonuses to employees who made unique or extraordinary efforts which are not awarded according to pre-established criteria, severance bonuses, referral bonuses for employees not primarily engaged in recruiting activities, bonuses for overcoming challenging or stressful situations, employee-of-the-month bonuses, and other similar compensation. Such bonuses are usually not promised in advance and the fact and amount of payment is in the sole discretion of the employer until at or near the end of the period to which the bonus corresponds.

[33 FR 986, Jan. 26, 1968, as amended at 84 FR 68772, Dec. 16, 2019]

§778.212   Gifts, Christmas and special occasion bonuses.

(a) Statutory provision. Section 7(e)(1) of the Act provides that the term “regular rate” shall not be deemed to include “sums paid as gifts; payments in the nature of gifts made at Christmas time or on other special occasions, as a reward for service, the amounts of which are not measured by or dependent on hours worked, production, or efficiency *  *  *”. Such sums may not, however, be credited toward overtime compensation due under the Act.

(b) Gift or similar payment. To qualify for exclusion under section 7(e)(1) the bonus must be actually a gift or in the nature of a gift. If it is measured by hours worked, production, or efficiency, the payment is geared to wages and hours during the bonus period and is no longer to be considered as in the nature of a gift. If the payment is so substantial that it can be assumed that employees consider it a part of the wages for which they work, the bonus cannot be considered to be in the nature of a gift. Obviously, if the bonus is paid pursuant to contract (so that the employee has a legal right to the payment and could bring suit to enforce it), it is not in the nature of a gift.

(c) Application of exclusion. If the bonus paid at Christmas or on other special occasion is a gift or in the nature of a gift, it may be excluded from the regular rate under section 7(e)(1) even though it is paid with regularity so that the employees are led to expect it and even though the amounts paid to different employees or groups of employees vary with the amount of the salary or regular hourly rate of such employees or according to their length of service with the firm so long as the amounts are not measured by or directly dependent upon hours worked, production, or efficiency. A Christmas bonus paid (not pursuant to contract) in the amount of two weeks' salary to all employees and an equal additional amount for each 5 years of service with the firm, for example, would be excludable from the regular rate under this category. Employers may also provide gifts with more regularity throughout the year, as long as they are provided with the understanding that they are gifts. Office coffee and snacks provided to employees, for example, would also be excludable from the regular rate under this category.

[33 FR 986, Jan. 26, 1968, as amended at 84 FR 68772, Dec. 16, 2019]

§778.213   Profit-sharing, thrift, and savings plans.

Section 7(e)(3)(b) of the Act provides that the term “regular rate” shall not be deemed to include “sums paid in recognition of services performed during a given period if *  *  * the payments are made pursuant to a bona fide profit-sharing plan or trust or bona fide thrift or savings plan, meeting the requirements of the Secretary of Labor set forth in appropriate regulations *  *  *”. Such sums may not, however, be credited toward overtime compensation due under the Act. The regulations issued under this section are parts 547 and 549 of this chapter. Payments in addition to the regular wages of the employee, made by the employer pursuant to a plan which meets the requirements of the regulations in part 547 or 549 of this chapter, will be properly excluded from the regular rate.

§778.214   Benefit plans; including profit-sharing plans or trusts providing similar benefits.

(a) Statutory provision. Section 7(e)(4) of the Act provides that the term “regular rate” shall not be deemed to include: “contributions irrevocably made by an employer to a trustee or third person pursuant to a bona fide plan for providing old age, retirement, life, accident, or health insurance or similar benefits for employees *  *  *.” Such sums may not, however, be credited toward overtime compensation due under the Act.

(b) Scope and application of exclusion generally. Plans for providing benefits of the kinds described in section 7(e)(4) are referred to herein as “benefit plans”. It is section 7(e)(4) which governs the status for regular rate purposes of any contributions made by an employer pursuant to a plan for providing the described benefits. This is true irrespective of any other features the plan may have. Thus, it makes no difference whether or not the benefit plan is one financed out of profits or one which by matching employee contributions or otherwise encourages thrift or savings. Where such a plan or trust is combined in a single program (whether in one or more documents) with a plan or trust for providing profit-sharing payments to employees, the profit-sharing payments may be excluded from the regular rate if they meet the requirements of the Profit-Sharing Regulations, part 549 of this chapter, and the contributions made by the employer for providing the benefits described in section 7(e)(4) of the Act may be excluded from the regular rate if they meet the tests set forth in §778.215. Advance approval by the Department of Labor is not required.

(c) Tests must be applied to employer contributions. It should be emphasized that it is the employer's contribution made pursuant to the benefit plan that is excluded from or included in the regular rate according to whether or not the requirements set forth in §778.215 are met. If the contribution is not made as provided in section 7(e)(4) or if the plan does not qualify as a bona fide benefit plan under that section, the contribution is treated the same as any bonus payment which is part of the regular rate of pay, and at the time the contribution is made the amount thereof must be apportioned back over the workweeks of the period during which it may be said to have accrued. Overtime compensation based upon the resultant increases in the regular hourly rate is due for each overtime hour worked during any workweek of the period. The subsequent distribution of accrued funds to an employee on account of severance of employment (or for any other reason) would not result in any increase in his regular rate in the week in which the distribution is made.

(d) Employer contributions when included in fringe benefit wage determinations under Davis-Bacon Act. As noted in §778.6 where certain fringe benefits are included in the wage predeterminations of the Secretary of Labor for laborers and mechanics performing contract work subject to the Davis-Bacon Act and related statutes, the provisions of Public Law 88-349 discussed in §5.32 of this title should be considered together with the interpretations in this part 778 in determining the excludability of such fringe benefits from the regular rate of such employees. Accordingly, reference should be made to §5.32 of this title as well as to §778.215 for guidance with respect to exclusion from the employee's regular rate of contributions made by the employer to any benefit plan if, in the workweek or workweeks involved, the employee performed work as a laborer or mechanic subject to a wage determination made by the Secretary pursuant to part 1 of this title, and if fringe benefits of the kind represented by such contributions constitute a part of the prevailing wages required to be paid such employee in accordance with such wage determination.

(e) Employer contributions or equivalents pursuant to fringe benefit determinations under Service Contract Act of 1965. Contributions by contractors and subcontractors to provide fringe benefits specified under the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act of 1965, which are of the kind referred to in section 7(e)(4), are excludable from the regular rate under the conditions set forth in §778.215. Where the fringe benefit contributions specified under such Act are so excludable, equivalent benefits or payments provided by the employer in satisfaction of his obligation to provide the specified benefits are also excludable from the regular rate if authorized under part 4 of this title, subpart B, pursuant to the McNamara-O'Hara Act, and their exclusion therefrom is not dependent on whether such equivalents, if separately considered, would meet the requirements of §778.215. See §778.7.

[33 FR 986, Jan. 26, 1968, as amended at 36 FR 4699, Mar. 11, 1971]

§778.215   Conditions for exclusion of benefit-plan contributions under section 7(e)(4).

(a) General rules. In order for an employer's contribution to qualify for exclusion from the regular rate under section 7(e)(4) of the Act the following conditions must be met:

(1) The contributions must be made pursuant to a specific plan or program adopted by the employer, or by contract as a result of collective bargaining, and communicated to the employees. This may be either a company-financed plan or an employer-employee contributory plan.

(2) The primary purpose of the plan must be to provide systematically for the payment of benefits to employees on account of death, disability, advanced age, retirement, illness, medical expenses, hospitalization, accident, unemployment, legal services, or other events that could cause significant future financial hardship or expense.

(3) In a plan or trust, either:

(i) The benefits must be specified or definitely determinable on an actuarial basis; or

(ii) There must be both a definite formula for determining the amount to be contributed by the employer and a definite formula for determining the benefits for each of the employees participating in the plan; or

(iii) There must be both a formula for determining the amount to be contributed by the employer and a provision for determining the individual benefits by a method which is consistent with the purposes of the plan or trust under section 7(e)(4) of the Act.

(iv) Note: The requirements in paragraphs (a)(3) (ii) and (iii) of this section for a formula for determining the amount to be contributed by the employer may be met by a formula which requires a specific and substantial minimum contribution and which provides that the employer may add somewhat to that amount within specified limits; provided, however, that there is a reasonable relationship between the specified minimum and maximum contributions. Thus, formulas providing for a minimum contribution of 10 percent of profits and giving the employer discretion to add to that amount up to 20 percent of profits, or for a minimum contribution of 5 percent of compensation and discretion to increase up to a maximum of 15 percent of compensation, would meet the requirement. However, a plan which provides for insignificant minimum contributions and permits a variation so great that, for all practical purposes, the formula becomes meaningless as a measure of contributions, would not meet the requirements.

(4) The employer's contributions must be paid irrevocably to a trustee or third person pursuant to an insurance agreement, trust or other funded arrangement. The trustee must assume the usual fiduciary responsibilities imposed upon trustees by applicable law. The trust or fund must be set up in such a way that in no event will the employer be able to recapture any of the contributions paid in nor in any way divert the funds to his own use or benefit. (It should also be noted that in the case of joint employer-employee contributory plans, where the employee contributions are not paid over to a third person or to a trustee unaffiliated with the employer, violations of the Act may result if the employee contributions cut into the required minimum or overtime rates. See part 531 of this chapter.) Although an employer's contributions made to a trustee or third person pursuant to a benefit plan must be irrevocably made, this does not prevent return to the employer of sums which he had paid in excess of the contributions actually called for by the plan, as where such excess payments result from error or from the necessity of marking payments to cover the estimated cost of contributions at a time when the exact amount of the necessary contributions under the plan is not yet ascertained. For example, a benefit plan may provide for definite insurance benefits for employees in the event of the happening of a specified contingency such as death, sickness, accident, etc., and may provide that the cost of such definite benefits, either in full or any balance in excess of specified employee contributions, will be borne by the employer. In such a case the return by the insurance company to the employer of sums paid by him in excess of the amount required to provide the benefits which, under the plan, are to be provided through contributions by the employer, will not be deemed a recapture or diversion by the employer of contributions made pursuant to the plan.

(5) The plan must not give an employee the right to assign his benefits under the plan nor the option to receive any part of the employer's contributions in cash instead of the benefits under the plan: Provided, however, That if a plan otherwise qualified as a bona fide benefit plan under section 7(e)(4) of the Act, it will still be regarded as a bona fide plan even though it provides, as an incidental part thereof, for the payment to an employee in cash of all or a part of the amount standing to his credit (i) at the time of the severance of the employment relation due to causes other than retirement, disability, or death, or (ii) upon proper termination of the plan, or (iii) during the course of his employment under circumstances specified in the plan and not inconsistent with the general purposes of the plan to provide the benefits described in section 7(e)(4) of the Act.

(b) Plans under sections of the Internal Revenue Code. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, where the benefit plan or trust has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as satisfying the requirements of section 401(a), 403(a), or 403(b) of the Internal Revenue Code, is otherwise maintained pursuant to a written document that the plan sponsor reasonably believes satisfies the requirements of section 401(a), 403(a), 403(b), 408(k) or 408(p) of the Internal Revenue Code, or is sponsored by a government employer that reasonably believes the plan satisfies the requirements of section 457(b) of the Internal Revenue Code, the plan or trust will be considered to meet the conditions specified in paragraphs (a)(1), (2), (4), and (5) of this section.

[33 FR 986, Jan. 26, 1968, as amended at 46 FR 7312, Jan. 23, 1981; 84 FR 68772, Dec. 16, 2019]

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