HR Support on Exempt and Nonexempt Employee Classification

Editor's Note: One of the trickiest compliance challenges for HR.

Michael CardmanOverview: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was written in 1938, at a time when manufacturing and agriculture dominated the American economy. The law's structure for classifying employees as exempt or nonexempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements reflects that simpler time. Although it has been updated periodically in the decades since, the FLSA's classification scheme is often difficult to apply to more modern service- and information-related jobs.

One type of employee that has proven especially difficult to fit into the employee classification structure – and has also been the plaintiff in hundreds of lawsuits – is managers. Today's lean, flexible workplace often necessitates that managers pitch in and perform nonexempt work, rather than stand around with a clipboard in hand directing other employees. The more nonexempt work they do, the more likely it is they need to be paid overtime.

Complicating matters is the fact that employees' job duties change frequently. Employers often make the mistake of classifying all employees with a particular job title as exempt. When changes in the workplace necessitate changes in an employee's job duties, that classification can be jeopardized. HR is well-positioned to stay on top of these changes, and must remember that FLSA classification is an ongoing challenge, not a one-time task.

In addition, it's important that employers follow state requirements regarding employee classification.

Trends: The US Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed regulations that would, if finalized, increase the minimum salary from $455 per week to $679 per week (or from $23,660 per year to $35,308 per year). The proposed regulations also would allow employers to count nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level test, as long as they are paid annually or more frequently. The DOL projects the regulations will take effect January 2020.

Author: Michael Cardman, Legal Editor

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