29 CFR § 779.416 - What compensation “represents commissions.”
(a) Employment arrangements which provide for a commission on goods or services to be paid to an employee of a retail or service establishment may also provide, as indicated in § 779.413, for the payment to the employee at a regular pay period of a fixed sum of money, which may bear a more or less fixed relationship to the commission earnings which could be expected, on the basis of experience, for an average period of the same length. Such periodic payments, which are variously described in retail or service establishments as “advances,” “draws,” or “guarantees,” are keyed to a time base and are usually paid at weekly or other fixed intervals which may in some instances be different from and more frequent than, the intervals for payment of any earnings computed exclusively on a commission basis. They are normally smaller in amount than the commission earnings expected for such a period and if they prove to be greater, a deduction of the excess amount from commission earnings for a subsequent period, if otherwise lawful, may or may not be customary under the employment arrangement. A determination of whether or to what extent such periodic payments can be considered to represent commissions may be required in those situations where the employment arrangement is that the employee will be paid the stipulated sum, or the commission earnings allocable to the same period, whichever is the greater amount. The stipulated sum can never represent commissions, of course, if it is actually paid as a salary. If, however, it appears from all the facts and circumstances of the employment that the stipulated sum is not so paid and that it actually functions as an integral part of a true commission basis of payment, then such compensation may qualify as compensation which “represents commissions on goods or services” within the meaning of clause (2) of the section 7(i) exemption.
(b) The express statutory language of section 7(i), as amended in 1966, provides that “In determining the proportion of compensation representing commissions, all earnings resulting from the application of a bona fide commission rate shall be deemed commissions on goods or services without regard to whether the computed commissions exceed the draw or guarantee” which may be paid to the employee. Thus an employee who is paid a guarantee or draw against commissions computed in accordance with a bona fide commission payment plan or formula under which the computed commissions vary in accordance with the employee's performance on the job will qualify for exemption provided the conditions of 7(i)(1) are met as explained in § 779.419. Under a bona fide commission plan all of the computed commissions will be counted as compensation representing commissions even though the amount of commissions may not equal or exceed the guarantee or draw in some workweeks. The exemption will also apply in the case of an employee who is paid a fixed salary plus an additional amount of earned commissions if the amount of commission payments exceeds the total amount of salary payments for the representative period.
(c) A commission rate is not bona fide if the formula for computing the commissions is such that the employee, in fact, always or almost always earns the same fixed amount of compensation for each workweek (as would be the case where the computed commissions seldom or never equal or exceed the amount of the draw or guarantee). Another example of a commission plan which would not be considered as bona fide is one in which the employee receives a regular payment consituting nearly his entire earnings which is expressed in terms of a percentage of the sales which the establishment or department can always be expected to make with only a slight addition to his wages based upon a greatly reduced percentage applied to the sales above the expected quota.