Most employees in New York City and its boroughs understand that the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law passed by Congress as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms, requires that certain employees be paid overtime whenever they work more than 40 hours in a week. These employees and their employers also know that some employees are exempt from mandatory overtime requirements, but the legal basis for the exemption is often unknown or simply ignored. Both employers and employees should understand the basis for the exemptions because a failure to follow (or take advantage of) the regulations can cost either an employee or an employer a great deal of money.
The FLSA regulations create two classes of employees: those who are not covered by the mandatory overtime provisions of federal law (usually referred to as “exempt” employees), and those that are covered by the regulations (usually referred to as “non-exempt” employees). Some employers operate under the assumption that exempt status is governed by job title, but this assumption is false.
Workers who are paid a wage and earn less than the annual income prescribed by the Labor Department are covered by the mandatory overtime and federal minimum wage provisions. Workers who earn more than the minimum and who earn a regular salary are generally considered to be exempt. The Labor Department regulations state clearly that an employee may not be considered to be exempt from the mandatory overtime provisions merely because their job title includes the word supervisory.
The employee must regularly supervise two or more employees, have management as the primary duty of their position, and have genuine input into the status and duties of other employees. The Labor Department regulations that govern application of the FLSA contain a list of typical management duties. In other words, the employee must in fact have management duties in order to be considered exempt.
Jobs that are traditionally considered to be “learned professions” are exempt. These jobs include physicians, lawyers, dentists, teachers, architects and clergy. Some registered nurses are also deemed to fall within the exempt category.
An employee who feels that they have been wrongly placed in an exempt category may sue the employer for back pay, future pay, attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation. The Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department will also sue employers who appear to be violating the regulations that govern exempt vs. non-exempt status.
Solid legal advice from an employment attorney
Employees who believe that they have been wrongly classified may wish to investigate the possibility of commencing litigation to enforce their rights. A consultation with an experienced labor or employment law attorney can shed light on the potential for a successful outcome.