Know the Rules of the Road Before You Hire Up for the Season
Sharing Employees Across State Lines in the Pacific Northwest
Much of Alaska’s economy is seasonally based. So it comes as no surprise that many Alaska businesses have workforces that fluctuate in size depending upon their business needs. Many of these seasonal businesses also temporarily operate in remote locations, triggering certain logistical and legal considerations other employers are not required to address.
While some businesses bring in seasonal workers, others such as Oregon-based Vigor Inc., partner with Alaska organizations to bolster their workforce here. In January, for example, Vigor and Alaska-based Maritime Works jointly announced a private, philanthropic initiative called Advancing Alaskan Workers to help combat high turnover rates at Vigor’s Ketchikan shipyard and elsewhere.
Though Vigor is based in the Pacific Northwest, it is Alaska’s largest shipbuilder and ship-repair company; operating with 2,500 employees at ten locations in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, according to the company website.
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development at Vigor says exchanging knowledge between workers across state lines has helped bring new innovation to all of its operations. “The exchange of knowledge, skills, and abilities between Alaska and our Pacific Northwest region is totally awesome. It’s what has to happen and it’s what other regions do. It’s what Oregon and Washington do and now Alaska’s being invited to the party of this knowledge and technology exchange between the Lower 48 and Alaska,” Ward says.
Alaskans have a strong work ethic and are innovative, “because you can’t drive across the street to get the part you need, you have to figure out workarounds,” he says. Ward says that sharing employees across the organization and state lines opens the lines of communication and allows for idea sharing. “I’m pleased we’re able to have this common workforce and a common agenda in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. We learn a ton from each other and have a two-way exchange going on. Seeing this collaboration going between state borders makes me a happy man.”
Though seasonal hiring and exchanging workforces between state lines don’t necessarily follow the exact same guidelines and laws, there are a few tips that can be helpful if your business is considering sharing workers across state lines.
Hiring Up For the Season
If seasonal hiring across state lines describes your business, it is important to know the rules of the road before you hire up for the season. While not exhaustive of all employer rules (state and local laws may impose additional requirements), what follows are some tips from Renea Saade, a partner with the Labor & Employment Group of Stoel Rives LLP. Saade is an Anchorage-based attorney who provides representation and counsel to Alaska employers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska and Washington.
Travel to Worksite
Reporting to work in a remote location often requires a significant amount of travel time. Whether the travel time must be paid depends on whether the employee is engaging in “extra” travel for a job assignment or simply engaged in a “normal” commute from home to work (known as travel from “portal-to-portal”) and whether any work is performed while traveling. To avoid claims for unpaid wages, potential additional penalties, and financial exposure, an employer should determine and make clear to its employees when travel time is paid and when it is not.
Uniforms and Safety Gear
Seasonal work often includes wearing a uniform or specific safety gear. Employees can generally be asked to bear the cost of a uniform as a payroll deduction as long as the employee’s pay is not reduced below minimum wage. Safety gear and tools, however, usually must be provided at the employer’s cost if they are required for the benefit or convenience of the employer. If the uniform or safety gear can be worn before arriving at the worksite, then time spent dressing for work does not need to be paid. In contrast, if the uniform or safety gear must remain at the worksite; is required by law, the employer, or the nature of the work; or is so specialized that it is impractical to arrive at work with it on, the time spent putting it on should be paid.
Onboarding of new hires often includes training time, especially in some of Alaska’s unique climates. Time spent in meetings, lectures, or training is usually considered hours worked and must be paid unless attendance is voluntary and outside regular work hours, the information learned is not job related, and the employee does not perform any productive work while in attendance.
Time spent “on-call” is generally considered paid time if the employee is “engaged to wait” rather than “waiting to be engaged.” The difference between the two boils down to whether the employee’s location or actions while on-call are dictated or restricted in any way. For example, if the employee is required to stay at the worksite and cannot spend time on personal matters while waiting for a job assignment, the employee is “engaged to wait.” However, if the employee is at home or attending to personal matters or tasks while waiting to be called to duty, the employee is “waiting to be engaged” and in most cases is entitled to pay only if called to duty and only if the time spent performing the work is paid.
Providing housing to employees can create additional payroll and legal obligations for employers as well as expand the employer’s liability exposure. Most employers would benefit from consulting with tax and legal advisors to ensure that all their legal requirements are met, minimizing their risk of legal liability.
It is not uncommon for employers new to operating in Alaska or that hire from outside the state to inadvertently violate local minimum wage and overtime rules. Even if a company has operated here for some time, it never hurts to review the rules. Key points to be mindful of include: the state minimum wage rate is higher than the federal rate, the salary threshold for exempt workers is higher under the state minimum wage law than under the federal law, exempt classifications available under state law differ slightly from those under federal law and overtime is calculated on a daily basis (as well as on a workweek basis).
Return Travel and Last Paychecks
If an Alaska employer terminates the employment of a person recruited and hired from out of state for reasons other than certain misconduct (for example, fighting, intoxication, lying on an application, or unexcused absences for more than three consecutive scheduled days), the employer must provide the employee with return travel (usually airfare) back to their “home” state. The employer may also have to pay for return transportation if the employee resigned because the employer misrepresented certain work conditions. Last paychecks must be delivered to terminated employees within three working days of their termination. If an employee voluntarily resigns, the last paycheck may be delivered by the next regular payday that is at least three working days after the last day worked.
More information related to wage/hour and other obligations that employers operating in Alaska should keep in mind is available through the U.S. Department of Labor (www.dol.gov) or Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development (http://labor.state.ak.us/).
Renea I. Saade, a Partner with the Labor & Employment Group of Stoel Rives LLP, is an Anchorage-based attorney who provides representation and counsel to employers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska and Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-263-8412. This article is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.