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Carmel Mountain: FLSA Overtime Update

In Carmel Mountain, there are many workers who are on salary and some who are paid hourly per week. The below case did not concern workers in Carmel Mountain however the analogy is the same. Our law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP practices in estate planning. Please feel free to call or set up an appointment in person for a complimentary consultation. We also have e mail for your convenience.

Unless an employee falls within an exempt category of workers, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the employer to pay the employee overtime at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay, for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. To be exempt is to be ineligible for overtime. The exemption commonly called the “white collar” exemption is for professional employees.

Federal regulations in place since August 2004 have simplified the test for determining which employees come within the white collar exemption. An employee is a professional if each of the following elements is present:

(1) The employee has the primary duty of performing work requiring advanced knowledge, that is, work that is mainly intellectual in nature and which includes the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;

(2) The employee has advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning; and
(3) The employee has advanced knowledge that is customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

In one recent case, a company refused to pay overtime to some of its employees who were licensed pharmacists. Much to the dismay of the employees, the company’s reliance on the white collar exemption held up in federal court. All of the parties agreed that the second and third parts of the exemption test were met by the pharmacists, leaving a dispute only over whether the pharmacists’ work required the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment. The court found that this element also was present.

The pharmacists, with little supervision, routinely made discretionary decisions about dispensing prescribed drugs to patients, and sometimes the process required consultation with the physicians who prescribed the drugs. The only factor suggesting a lack of discretion was the fact that the employees, as a rule, were expected to follow standard operating procedures from their employer. But this argument by the pharmacists was undermined by the fact that they regularly were asked to consult with the employer about the standard procedures and to review them for any suggested improvements. The pharmacists also had the employer’s blessing to stray from the procedures if, in their judgment, it was necessary for a patient’s health.

Assuming an employee is eligible for overtime pay, questions can arise as to what comprises an employee’s regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating the overtime obligation. It is not always as simple as using an employee’s base hourly rate or salary. For example, in another recent case, a federal court ruled that the regular pay of municipal firefighters included payments made to them under a city’s sick leave buy-back program. A firefighter who had built up a certain amount of sick leave had the right to “sell” it back to the city for a lump-sum payment. Whenever this happened, the employer effectively was paying the firefighters a bonus for good attendance and for work they had already done. It was as much a part of the firefighters’ regular compensation as their base hourly wage, so it had to be taken into account in calculating overtime wages.

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