September 21, 2019

Overtime

Accounting Firms and the New Overtime Rules

As you may have heard, the Obama administration announced new rules this past week that will make millions of salaried workers eligible for overtime: Under the new regulation to be issued by the Labor Department on Wednesday, most salaried workers earning up to $47,476 a year must receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more […]

KPMG Scores a Major Victory in the War Against Overtime

This just in, your dreams of collecting overtime for all your hard work have been summarily crushed in appeals court. We've been following Pippins v. KPMG for quite some time, as its outcome could have been a real game changer for everyone. Well, too bad, the game shall hereby remain the same. The idea, in […]

The Trial Date Has Been Set in the Big Wage and Hour Lawsuit Against PwC

Ever since Going Concern was launched in 2009, we've been following Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the wage and hour lawsuit brought by audit associates in California. It's one of many suits floating around in the legal system but Campbell has slowly progressed through the courts, including arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether PwC could […]

What Pippins v. KPMG Could Mean for Your Firm

Ed. note: This post is republished from AccountingWEB. Any employer who has faced potential class action wage and hour lawsuits knows what a headache they can be. Due to a recent court ruling, employers have a lot more to worry about. That case, Pippins v. KPMG LLP, has caused tremendous turmoil and confusion among those […]

Comp Watch ’11: Big 4 Starting Salaries North of the Border

There’s been quite a bit of chatter out of Canada recently (Happy Thanksgiving, btw) and we now have some of the details for those receiving offers from 3 of the Big 4.

KPMG is offering $40,800 per year. They claim they will pay over time if you work over 40 hours per week.
PwC is offering $40,800 per year with a 0-15% bonus based on performance.
EY is offering $40,500 per year. No mentions of overtime.

This is for the Toronto offices and these figures are all in Canadian Dollars, which comes out to slightly below $40k USD but with the possibility of overtime, obviously the haul could be a lot more. If you’ve heard different numbers (or any Deloitte numbers at all) for these firms, get in touch or discuss below.

An Accounting Director, Who Really Needs a Drink, Needs Advice on His Next Career Move

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Advice gurus,

I’m a Accounting Director (upgraded staff accountant really) at a small non-profit. I’ve been with the org since getting out of college 2 years ago. My firm loves me but I’ve decided to switch, mainly because I’m not liking the AD position. First because come close of the year and January, I pretty much want to drown my life in as many Guinesses as I can find. 80+ hours per week just sucks after a while and my org doesn’t let me drink. 🙁 Second is personal – I’m wanting to be closer to family and friends.

I took the AD job because I thought it would put me well on my way to a CFO job down the road. So my question is this, are there other good ways to get to that end without going AD, Controller, CFO or something similar? Do I just need to suck it up and keep being an AD for a few more years before I can move to a controller position? Finally, if I take a staff accountant position how does that look? Thanks.

-Can’t wait to drink again

Good afternoon Guiness,
If being a CFO is your goal, you need to assess the qualities and skillsets that CFOs in your industry possess. Consider a few things when doing so:

1. Get Your CPA – There’s no denying the importance of getting the three letters next to your name. As you progress you in career, having a CPA will keep doors open for you. Read up on Adrienne’s great CPA coverage if you don’t know where to start.

2. Lose the title – You’re still very young in your career, so my advice to you is to worry less about titles and more about opportunities that open doors and expose you to a variety of accounting responsibilities. This is meant as no offense to you and your career thus far, but a staff accountant at a large corporation most likely sees more complicated accounting issues than say, a charity bookstore. Roll up your sleeves and challenge yourself.

3. Location – before you have a spouse, kids and a mortgage, get back to where you want to be. It will be easier to find a staff-level job than a specialized, more technical job that you’ll be qualified for five years from now. And call your mother, she misses you.

4. It’s not like Mad Men but… – The liquor store sells the little nip bottles for a reason. It’s a scientific fact that whiskey helps ease the frustration of 80+ hour work weeks.

May the drink-at-work Spirits be with you,
DWB

Ninth Circuit Rules for PwC in California Overtime Lawsuit

Reuters reports:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed [a lower court decision] on Wednesday, ruling that PwC is entitled to litigate whether the unlicensed accountants can be exempted from overtime laws. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to a district court in Sacramento, Calif. for more proceedings.

So, no this isn’t over. The actual trial still hasn’t gone down but this is definitely a big win for PwC.

A firm spokesperson provided us with the following statement: “PwC is pleased that the Ninth Circuit supported its arguments in this important case. The firm greatly values these employees and considers their work an integral part of PwC’s success.” An attempt to reach counsel for the plaintiffs was not immediately returned. Will keep you updated with any new details as we learn them.

Previous Coverage:
Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers

Ernst & Young Advisory Intern Wants to Get an Idea of What the Overtime Gravy Train Will Be Like

From the mailbag:

I will be a full time Advisory intern at Ernst and Young in Manhattan this coming summer. The duration of the internship is 7 weeks starting mid June. We just received a raise in our salary which has me thinking about compensation.

As you know, interns receive overtime which can contribute significant weight to overall pay. After researching the internet and the GC archives, I have not been able to find a clear answer regarding what I can expect for overtime hours. I know this varies by firm, workload, work groups etc but can you estimate an average of overtime hours per week? If any?

Right you are, grasshopper – it will depend on various factors you mentioned as well the clients you are assigned to, and what kind of expectations your superiors have (maybe that’s what you mean by work groups?). ANYWAY. In all likelihood, you’ll see some overtime hours which will probably result in some nice paychecks this summer but don’t be surprised if managers are staying on top of the hours you’re working. The Big 4 and other accounting firms aren’t quite as loose with the wallet as they used to be so I’d guess your hours will top out somewhere in the 50s on a weekly basis. That puts you in the range of 10 to 15 hours of OT a week (20+ only for those who work for lunatics). If your senior isn’t a headcase then you can expect 40-50 hours a week.

If you fancy yourself a intern hour handicapper, throw some numbers out there. And, interns, when things get rolling, get back to us with your numbers.

Oral Arguments Heard in Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers

~ Update below with link to audio of the proceedings

Last month we caught you up on Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the wage and hour lawsuit filed by employees of the firm, claiming to be non-exempt and thus available for overtime. Oral arguments were heard today at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and it marks the most recent step in a case that could have wide repercussions in California. Francine McKenna has a good rundown over at Forbes, including sta��������������������rshaw, the plaintiffs’ attorney. PwC and their lead counsel, Dan Thomasch of Orrick, have declined to comment at this time.

In today’s proceedings, both sides were allowed to make their arguments and answered questions from a three-judge panel. We’ve obtained the briefs for both sides and we’ll give you a taste of each. First, from the plaintiffs:

PwC argues that Attest Associates satisfy the Professional Exemption because—notwithstanding the routine and nondiscretionary nature of their work—PwC claims that they are functionally indistinguishable from fully licensed accountants, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. As a matter of law, however, the text, structure, and drafting history of the Professional Exemption limit its application to licensed accountants, and Associates are not licensed. Second, PwC argues that Attest Associates satisfy the Wage Order’s Administrative Exemption because they work “under only general supervision” despite up to six layers of managers who are responsible for Associates’ work. That argument fails, however, because PwC has not pointed to sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact that Associates “work along specialized or technical lines”—much less that they do so “under only general supervision”—as required by the Administrative Exemption.

The argument goes into detail from there addressing three key arguments: 1) The Professional Exemption Does Not Apply to Attest Associates; 2) The Administrative Exemption Does Not Apply to Attest Associates; 3) The Rules Governing Professions Other Than Accounting Do Not Help PwC. You can see the brief in its entirety on the next pages.

PwC addresses all three arguments in their brief; this is a portion from the brief’s introduction:

Put simply, nothing in the Wage Order precludes unlicensed accountants from being shown to be exempt under subsection (b) of the Professional Exemption. Plaintiffs’ argument that the “drafting history” of the wage order at issue shows an intention on the part of the [Industrial Welfare Commission] to prohibit unlicensed accountants from being professionally exempt should be rejected, because the language and structure of the Professional Exemption are not ambiguous, and contain no such prohibition. Even the District Court did not accept Plaintiffs’ tortured reading of the text of the Professional Exemption, or claim to find unambiguous intent on the part of the [Industrial Welfare Commission] to exclude from eligibility for the Professional Exemption all unlicensed members of the accounting profession — and inevitably by extension, all unlicensed lawyers, doctors, dentists, optometrists, architects, engineers, and teachers. Doing so is flatly contrary to the overriding principle governing application of exemptions from overtime provisions, which is to consider individual employees’ work duties.

And their brief outlines a direct counter to the plaintiffs’ brief: 1) Plaintiffs’ Argument That Accountants Can Only Qualify for a Professional Exemption Under Subsection (a) Is Unsupportable 2) PwC Is Entitled to Show That Its Attest Associates Satisfy the “General Supervision” Requirement of the Administrative Exemption; 3) The Impact of the District Court’s Order Is Not Limited to the Profession of Accounting.

So what we’ve got here is…failure to agree on how the ambiguous (or not) California law is and how it applies specifically to unlicensed audit associates. Are they really just cogs in the wheel, bowing to their superiors as the plaintiffs argue? Or are they responsible professionals who are engaged in a challenging occupation that warrants exemption? The 9th Circuit will have transcripts and audio from the proceedings available on its website at some point tomorrow and we’ll update this post with them when they’re available. As for a resolution, it will be several months before we find out what the 9th Circuit rules and then, there’s still a trial to be had. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Audio is now available for those interested. You can listen to the proceedings here.

2010 01 29 Br of Appellees

Efiled Reply Brief

(UPDATE 2) Outlook 2011: How Will the 9th Circuit Rule in Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers?

~ Update includes oral argument date included in third paragraph

~ Update 2 includes correction of the spelling of “Stepan Mekhitarian” under the list of amicus briefs for the plaintiffs.

One of the stories that we’ve covered with interest since the launch of Going Concern has been the wage and hour lawsuits in California. For those needing a refresher, these are suits that were brought by non-licensed associates against various accounting firms (list of cases at bottom of this post) included who believe they were misclassified under California law as exempt professionals and are due overtime and other benefits due to non-exempt empltle differently, “I worked a ton of hours during busy season and all I got was sleep deprivation, a fat ass and I still don’t have a CPA so, pretty please, I’d like a little more money.”


Every once in awhile we get asked about the status of these cases and since it’s been a few months almost a year since our last post, we thought we’d update you briefly. You may remember that the main case, Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, is currently with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on interlocutory appeal over the issue of whether “learned professionals” can be defined as an exempt employees.

We recently spoke with a source familiar with the defense’s strategy in this case and learned that the two sides are to give oral arguments before the court sometime early this year on February 15th, after which, the Court will likely render its decision in the latter part of 2011 (everyone’s hoping, anyway). Regardless of the decision in the 9th Circuit, the case will go back to the trial court, so get comfortable.

While the developments in the case have been slow, it is interesting to note that both sides are both confident in their chances of victory in the 9th Circuit and make no mistake, it’s an important ruling. If the 9th Circuit were to rule in the favor of the plaintiffs, it could very well be a quick resolution, as the plaintiffs’ attorney, Bill Kershaw told us in July 2009, “the likelihood of the case resolving itself prior to trial would substantially increase,” although, our source disagreed with this sentiment, so we’re counting on a battle.

Something else worth noting (that we may have glossed over in prior posts) is that there are suits brought in both state and federal court. The main difference being that at the state level, once a suit is classified as a class-action, individuals are classified as plaintiffs until they opt out while the cases at the federal level are “collective action” where once a particular group of people are identified as plaintiffs, they are given the chance to opt in to participate in the lawsuit. In other words, employees of a firm who are thought to be non-exempt under California law, are automatically members of the class-action in state court while in federal court, potential plaintiffs have to choose to participate voluntarily. This makes the federal cases broader in scope geographically but trials at the state level will have a larger number of members in the class-action, which could mean a larger settlement.

Finally, some additional new information that we have to pass along are the organizations that filed amicus briefs on behalf of both parties. Here are the groups that filed amicus briefs on behalf of both parties; the notables being the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AICPA for PwC:

Organizations Filing Amicus Briefs in Support of PwC

1. Employers Group, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, and California Chamber of Commerce (one brief)

2. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

3. California Employment Law Council

Organizations Filing Amicus Briefs in Support of Plaintiffs

1. California Employment Lawyers Association

2. Former Commissioner of the California Industrial Welfare Commission (Barry Broad) and Former Chief Counsels of the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (Miles Locker and H. Thomas Cadell) (one brief)

3. Brandy Blaske, David Lee, Julia Longnecker, Stephan Stepan Mekhitarian, and Svetlana V. Murphy (all are Plaintiffs in Mekhitarian, et al. v. Deloitte & Touche, a proposed class action involving D&T’s Tax line of service)

So while it will be some time before we’ll see a ruling in Campbell this year, not to mention a resolution at the trial level, you can bet lots of unlicensed PwC employees will be working plenty of hours this busy season.

Wage & Hour Lawsuits

Memo to Big 4 Partners

“Overtime-induced work stress might contribute to a substantial proportion of cardiovascular disease.”

~ Gordon McInnes, professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Glasgow’s Western Infirmary.

Plaintiffs File Brief in Big 4 Overtime Lawsuit

Last summer we initiated our coverage on the wage and hour lawsuits against the Big 4 and other firms that have been filed in California. As you may remember, the case that is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the key case as it may decide how the rest of the cases proceed.

Just a quick refresheramicus (i.e. friend of court) briefs following in early November.


The plaintiffs’ amicus briefs are scheduled to be filed tomorrow and while Mr. Kershaw would not share any names with us, he did inform us that there were some notable supporters that will be filing briefs. Parties claiming support via web (though it is not clear whether they are expected to file as amicus) include among others, labor union UNITE HERE.

The briefs are under seal at the request of the defendants who are claiming proprietary privilege.

In the past, the 9th Circuit has been accused of having a liberal bias which could be perceived as an advantage to the plaintiffs. While Mr. Kershaw agreed that the 9th Circuit was more “worker friendly” in the past, he told us, “After eight years under the Bush administration, the court has considerably more conservative justices.”

According to the 9th Circuit’s website, former President George W. Bush appointed seven justices while in office. Of the 47 justices currently serving, 21 were appointed by Republican Presidents and 26 by Democratic Presidents.

Despite the political makeup, Mr. Kershaw believes, as he did when we last spoke with him on the matter, that the evolution of the law of the exemptions (i.e. who, among other things, is and is not eligible for overtime) will demonstrate that the plaintiffs were not “learned professionals,” and will prevail in case.

Lead counsel for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Norman Hile of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP did not respond to our request for an interview.

We reached out to all the firms; receiving responses from only BDO, who provide the following statement: “We believe that the employee in this case was properly classified as exempt. This case has been stayed pending resolution of the PwC appeal. As is our policy on matters of litigation, BDO does not intend to comment further until this case is resolved.” We were also informed that in the BDO case that the class certification was denied by the trial court and the appeal was also denied.

In the case of Hood & Strong, LLP, we were referred to their attorney, Jonathan R. Bass of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, who we spoke with briefly about his case, Kathleen McFarland v. Hood & Strong LLP.

Mr. Bass indicated to us that the lawsuit against his client is only one of four that is being tried in state court and would not necessarily be affected by the ruling in Campbell. He further indicated that these lawsuits are something that his client, and most likely all the defendants, did not anticipate, “it is not likely that any of these firms considered the possibility of their employees being treated as anything other than exempt.”

No other firms listed as defendants responded to our request to comment.

Ultimately a decision in Campbell may not be known until 2011 at which point the litigation could actually proceed or be settled. We’ll continue to follow these cases as they progress.