Aug 04, 2016
By Peter Friedmann

Should You Be Paid Overtime Wages? Important Information for the Employee about the FLSA Professional Exemption

This article focuses on the Professional Exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA mandates that most employees in the United States be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and be compensated with overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 hours a week. Whether an employee is protected by these provisions depends on how the employer classifies that particular employee.

Employers have two ways of classifying employees under the FLSA; exempt or non-exempt. Exempt employees are not protected by the overtime and minimum wage provisions in the FLSA, whereas non-exempt employees are protected.

What are the available exemptions?

Section 13(a) of the FLSA provides an exemption from the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the FLSA if the employee in question is a bona fide executive, administrative, professional or an outside sales employee.

As the employee, it is important to remember that your job title does not classify you as exempt or non-exempt. To be classified as an exempt employee, you must perform certain job duties and be paid on a salary basis, at a rate not less than $455 per week.

Professional/Learned Employee Exemption

If you are being paid at least $455 per week on a salary basis, these job duties will qualify you for the Professional Exemption:

1) Your “primary duty” must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;

2) The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning;

3) The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

ALL of these requirements must be satisfied in order for an employee to be classified as exempt.

What does “primary duty” mean?

Basically, this means that the main, major or most important job duties the employee is performing are those that require advanced knowledge. Example: One task that you perform every six months requires advanced knowledge. This probably would not qualify you as an exempt employee if the rest of your job duties do not require advanced knowledge.

What is “work requiring advanced knowledge?”

This means work that is predominantly intellectual in character, distinguished from manual, mechanical or physical labor. Advanced knowledge cannot be obtained at the high school level.
Common examples of professions that require advanced knowledge include: lawyer, medical doctor, a certified and licensed accountant, a psychiatrist, etc.

What does “prolonged course of specialized instruction” mean?

This is any field where specialized academic training is a prerequisite for entry into that field.
Examples: law school graduate who must pass the Bar exam before becoming a licensed attorney, medical school graduate who must pass exams in order to be a licensed practitioner of medicine, etc.

If you are unsure whether you are classified as an exempt or non-exempt employee, just ask the Payroll Department and/or Human Resources Department who can shed light on your status as an employee. If you believe you have been misclassified and should be earning overtime wages, contact our firm so we can take a closer look at your job duties and help decide whether you have been misclassified as an exempt employee.

Our Columbus wage and hour lawyers would be happy to take your call.