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National Newspaper Association supports more flexibility in fluctuating salary rules

For Immediate Release – Nov. 22, 2019
Contact: Tonda Rush
tonda@nna.org

National Newspaper Association, representing community newspapers across America, has expressed its approval of a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to provide employers with additional tools for compensating staff under the fluctuating salary method permitted by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The fluctuating salary method is one way for publishers to allow staff to earn a salary, rather than an hourly rate.  The method involves a complex calculation each week of the amount each staffer has worked so a “regular rate” of pay for that week can be established. Hours worked over 40 hours each week are then compensated at an additional 50% of the regular rate. 

Businesses that offer bonuses and premium pay have received inconsistent guidance on whether such extra compensation can become part of the regular rate of pay.  DOL proposes to end the confusion by specifically permitting these extra pay bonuses to be included.  NNA this week told the department that it believed giving businesses more room to design custom pay packages would be beneficial for community newspapers.

NNA President Matt Adelman, publisher of the Douglas (Wyoming) Budget, said the fluctuating salary method can be useful for small newspapers that have concerns about wide variations in the demands on news staff from week to week.

“This method is not for the faint-of-heart bookkeeper. It requires a weekly recalculation of the effective base pay, but it is a great alternative for the staffer who would otherwise be hourly and might not be able to make 40 hours of work in a slow week. The method assumes a flat salary that does not fall if fewer than 40 hours are worked, and it pays an overtime premium, but not as much as if an hourly employee were on time-and-a-half of the hourly rate,” Adelman said.

“We find newspapers using this method for sports desks primarily, because those editors and reporters can have completely inconsistent schedules from week to week.  NNA chose to comment on this because we recognize what a burden the new FLSA rules have put on newspapers and we are supporting anything that gives a newspaper some new tools for compliance. Our member survey indicated that members thought so as well.”

NNA explains the fluctuating salary rule in more detail in the December Publishers’ Auxiliary column “Legal Standing.”

NNA’s comments to the Labor Department are available here.