Pro Golfers Take Swing at New Overtime Rule

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By Chris Opfer

Oct. 15 — Among the assorted business, worker and professional groups to weigh in on the Labor Department's proposed rule to expand overtime pay for workers, one of the more unexpected players is an organization representing some of the country's best golfers.

The new overtime rule (RIN 1235–AA11) would make some 5 million additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. It would limit the “white collar” exemption for certain management and professional employees by more than doubling the salary limit for automatic overtime eligibility to $50,440 per year from $23,660.

The Professional Golfers' Association recently hired lobbying firm Crossroads Strategies LLC to urge lawmakers and the DOL to tweak the proposed overtime rule. The golfers want certain fees and commissions included when considering whether a worker exceeds the exemption's salary threshold. If the fees and commissions that many PGA members earn for giving golf lessons isn't included in the calculation, the group says, those workers could actually see their paychecks shrink. That's because club owners will simply pocket the money and increase the golfers' salaries slightly above the new threshold level, they say.

One Size Doesn't Fit All, PGA Says

“We strongly encouraged the U.S. Department of Labor to take a broader approach on how it proposes to define compensation,” PGA Chief Operating Officer Darrell Crall told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail Oct. 15. “The proposed rule takes a one-size-fits-all approach to salary income and does not consider the differing compensation systems in varied industries.”

The association's 27,000 members are golf professionals trained through an accredited apprenticeship or college program or who opt out of training requirements by passing a written exam. The PGA also organizes or sponsors a number of high-stakes annual tournaments on the professional golf circuit.

The Labor Department received some 250,000 public comments on the overtime rule. That includes a list of concerns submitted jointly by the PGA, the Club Managers Association of America, the Golf Course Superintendents of America, the National Golf Course Owners Association and the National Club Association.

Rule Change Could Shift Pay Arrangements

The groups said many of the golf and tennis professionals employed at clubs across the country may be paid salaries below the proposed threshold, but their total earnings are significantly higher when accounting for the “lesson fees, program fees and commissions” that they get for giving training sessions. That arrangement could change if the new rule goes into effect as proposed, they said.

“For example, a club might increase base salary above the exemption level, but will retain lesson and program fees, thus limiting the earning potential of these employees,” the groups wrote. “In addition, currently exempt employees may be converted to an hourly basis and limited in their hours to conduct lessons or programs.”

At present, the DOL includes salaries, hourly pay and some fees in determining whether a worker meets the current threshold for exempt status. When it unveiled the proposed rule in June, the DOL asked stakeholders to weigh in on whether it should also consider commissions.

The PGA and other golf industry organizations also reiterated some of the concerns about the proposed rule that have been regularly raised by business groups. They said the regulation doesn't take into account regional cost-of-living differences and warned that increased payroll costs could force clubs to shed jobs, particularly in an industry where hours and revenue vary widely by season.

A DOL spokesman didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com