29 CFR 790.15 - “Good faith.”
(a) One of the most important requirements of sections 9 and 10 is proof by the employer that the act or omission complained of and his conformance with and reliance upon an administrative regulation, order, ruling, approval, interpretation, practice or enforcement policy, were in good faith. The legislative history of the Portal Act makes it clear that the employer's “good faith” is not to be determined merely from the actual state of his mind. Statements made in the House and Senate indicate that “good faith” also depends upon an objective test - whether the employer, in acting or omitting to act as he did, and in relying upon the regulation, order, ruling, approval, interpretation, administrative practice or enforcement policy, acted as a reasonably prudent man would have acted under the same or similar circumstances. 95 “Good faith” requires that the employer have honesty of intention and no knowledge of circumstances which ought to put him upon inquiry. 96
95 Colloquy between Representatives Reeves and Devitt, 93 Cong. Rec. 1593; colloquy between Senators Ferguson and Donnell, 93 Cong. Rec. 4451-4452.
96 See statement of Senator McGrath, 93 Cong. Rec. 2254-2255; statement of Representative Keating, 93 Cong. Rec. 4391; statement of Representative Walter, 93 Cong. Rec. 4389.
(b) Some situations illustrating the application of the principles stated in paragraph (a) of this section may be mentioned. Assume that a ruling from the Administrator, stating positively that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to certain employees, is received by an employer in response to a request which fully described the duties of the employees and the circumstances surrounding their employment. It is clear that the employer's employment of such employees in such duties and under such circumstances in reliance on the Administrator's ruling, without compensating them in accordance with the Act, would be in good faith so long as the ruling remained unrevoked and the employer had no notice of any facts or circumstances which would lead a reasonably prudent man to make further inquiry as to whether the employees came within the Act's provisions. Assume, however, that the Administrator's ruling was expressly based on certain court decisions holding that employees so engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, and that the employer subsequently learned from his attorney that a higher court had reversed these decisions or had cast doubt on their correctness by holding employees similarly situated to be engaged in an occupation necessary to the production of goods for interstate commerce. Assume further that the employer, after learning of this, made no further inquiry but continued to pay the employees without regard to the requirements of the Act in reliance on the Administrator's earlier ruling. In such a situation, if the employees later brought an action against the employer, the court might determine that they were entitled to the benefits of the Act and might decide that the employer, after learning of the decision of the higher court, knew facts which would put a reasonably prudent man upon inquiry and therefore had not provided his good faith in relying upon the Administrator's ruling after receiving this advice.
(c) In order to illustrate further the test of “good faith,” suppose that the X Federal Agency published a general bulletin regarding manufacturing, which contained the erroneous statement that all foremen are exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act as employed in a “bona fide executive * * * capacity.” Suppose also that an employer knowing that the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division is charged with the duties of administering the Fair Labor Standards Act and of defining the phrase “bona fide executive * * * capacity” in that Act, nevertheless relied upon the above bulletin without inquiring further and, inconformity with this advice, failed to compensate his nonexempt foremen in accordance with the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act for work subject to that Act, performed before May 14, 1947. If the employer had inquired of the Administrator or had consulted the Code of Federal Regulations, he would have found that his foremen were not exempt. In a subsequent action brought by employees under section 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the court may decide that the employer knew facts which ought to have put him as a reasonable man upon further inquiry, and, consequently, that he did not rely “in good faith” within the meaning of section 9, upon the bulletin published by the X Agency. 97
97 See statement of Representative Gwynne, 93 Cong. Rec. 1563, and colloquy between Senators Connally and Donnell, 93 Cong. Rec. 4453.
(d) Insofar as the period prior to May 14, 1947, is concerned, the employer may have received an interpretation from an agency which conflicted with an interpretation of the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of which he was also aware. If the employer chose to reply upon the interpretation of the other agency, which interpretation worked to his advantage, considerable weight may well be given to the fact that the employer ignored the interpretation of the agency charged with the administration of the Fair Labor Standards Act and chose instead to rely upon the interpretation of an outside agency. 98 Under these circumstances “the question could properly be considered as to whether it was a good faith reliance or whether the employer was simply choosing a course which was most favorable to him.” 99 This problem will not arise in regard to any acts or omissions by the employer occurring on or after May 14, 1947, because section 10 provides that the employer, insofar as the Fair Labor Standards Act is concerned, may rely only upon regulations, orders, rulings, approvals, interpretations, administrative practices and enforcement policies of the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. 100
98 This view was expressed several times during the debates. See statements of Representative Keating, 93 Cong. Rec. 1512 and 4391; colloquy between Representatives Keating and Devitt, 93 Cong. Rec. 1515; statement of Representative Walter, 93 Cong. Rep. 4389; statement of Representative MacKinnon, 93 Cong. Rec. 4391; statement of Representative Gwynne, 93 Cong. Rec. 1563; statement of Senator Cooper, 93 Cong. Rec. 4451; colloquy between Senators Connally and Donnell, 93 Cong. Rec. 4452-4453.
99 Statement of Senator Cooper, 93 Cong. Rec. 4451. Representative Walter, a member of the Conference Committee, made the following explanatory statement to the House of Representatives (93 Cong. Rec. 4390): “The defense of good faith is intended to apply only where an employer innocently and to his detriment, followed the law as it was laid down to him by Government agencies, without notice that such interpretations were claimed to be erroneous or invalid. It is not intended that this defense shall apply where an employer had knowledge of conflicting rules and chose to act in accordance with the one most favorable to him.” Representative Gwynne made a similar statement (93 Cong. Rec. 1563).
100 Statement of Senator Wiley explaining Conference agreement to the Senate, 93 Cong. Rec. 4270; statement of Representative Walter, 93 Cong. Rec. 4389.