Small business owners without any HR expertise and without seeking outside counsel tend to classify their employees on a whim, believing that granting someone “exempt” status will save the business on overtime expenses. Little thought is given to whether their “exempt” employees actually qualify for their exempt status. This is a problem that unfortunately, many of them don’t realize the severity of until there’s a claim of overtime that allows for them to learn about the qualifications for the exemption. By then, its usually too late and they are well on their way to losing a case.
Generally, an employee is paid on a salary basis if s/he has a “guaranteed minimum” amount of money s/he can count on receiving for any work week in which s/he performs “any” work. To qualify as exempt, employees must generally be paid a predetermined amount over $455 per week each pay period not-dependent on the quality or quantity of the work performed. Starting December 1st, 2016, the salary threshold of $455 a week will rise to $913 ($47,476 per year) making an additional 4.2 million workers eligible for overtime pay.
The Duties Tests
An employee who meets the salary level tests and also the salary basis tests is exempt only if s/he also performs exempt job duties.
There are three typical categories of exempt job duties, called “executive,” “professional,” and “administrative.”
Exempt executive job duties.
Job duties are exempt executive job duties if the employee
- regularly supervises two or more other employees, and also,
- has management as the primary duty of the position, and also,
- has some genuine input into the job status of other employees (such as hiring, firing, promotions, or assignments).
“Mere supervision” is not sufficient. In addition, the supervisory employee must have “management” as the “primary duty” of the job.
Business owners should remember to look at the job duties of the position, not the job title of an employee to determine whether an exempt status applies. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) also provides certain exemptions for outside sales personnel, certain specialized computer personnel, certain highly compensated employees, certain retail sales employees, and employees covered by the Motor Carrier Act (MCA); Qualifying for these and documenting your rationale can get a little technical, and business owners should consult with an HR or Labor Attorney to ensure the exemption will hold up if ever challenged.
With the new salary threshold becoming effective in a few months, the time is perfect for employers to reevaluate their exempt/nonexempt classifications. If you are concerned that some of your exempt workers may be misclassified, the new regulations will give you another reason to revise their classification without necessarily creating liability for past wages.