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Job Title and Exempt Status: Lessons From a Recent Court Case

Overtime litigation – over the top
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Human Resources

Job title and exempt status: Lessons from a recent court case

Here's a reminder that job duties are what determine exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You cannot classify someone as exempt based just on job title or education.

For example, requiring a college degree for jobs that really could be performed without such training and experience doesn't magically make the employee ineligible for overtime protection.

The most expensive employee lawsuits? Misclassification is in a class by itself.

Recent case: David, who has a law degree and is licensed to practice law, signed on with a legal temp firm and was assigned to work for a large New York law firm.

The job required the law degree and license and consisted of reviewing documents filed in various lawsuits. David was provided with search terms and specific instructions on what to look for. He earned $25 per hour and often worked 50 to 60 hours per week. He received no overtime pay for working over 40 hours per week.

David sued, alleging that he should have been paid overtime.

Settlements in employee classification lawsuits have been known to run into tens of millions of dollars. How can you protect yourself? By reading – and following – Exempt vs. Non-Exempt: How to Make the Call and Avoid FLSA Overtime Lawsuits. Get your copy today!

The firm and the temp firm argued that David was an exempt professional and was therefore not eligible for overtime. They also argued he did not need to be paid on a salary basis because the FLSA regulations exempt lawyers and doctors from that requirement.

David lost in the district court, but appealed. His lawsuit was reinstated.

The appeals court concluded that "a machine" could have done David's job. It was not professional legal work and didn't really require a law degree and license. David can now move forward with the lawsuit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated document reviewers. (Lola v. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, No. 3845, 2nd Cir., 2015)

No area of employment law is as potentially devastating to employers – and as lucrative to plaintiff attorneys – as overtime lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The 2004 changes to the Act were supposed to solve this problem. But the opposite has occurred.

To help you understand what to do – and what NOT to do – we published Exempt vs. Non-Exempt: How to Make the Call and Avoid FLSA Overtime Lawsuits. You'll discover how to avoid common mistakes most employers make, such as:
  • Misclassifying assistants and computer pros
  • Switching employees to exempt once they hit a pay threshold
  • Looking only at job titles, not at employees' duties
  • Exempt or Nonexempt?Wrongly assuming all help-desk workers qualify for the computer exemption
  • Not giving exempt executives true hiring/firing authority
  • Allowing clerical tasks to defeat administrative exemption
  • Looking only at the degree, not the job, to classify learned professionals
  • Wrongly assuming all medical staff qualify for the professional exemption
  • Jeopardizing exempt employees' status if you pay them extra
  • Not ensuring store managers' primary duty is management
You'll also learn the tests you can use to determine whether or not you're misclassifying employees RIGHT NOW … answer some Frequently Asked Questions … and discover six helpful compliance tips to be sure you're obeying both the letter and the spirit of this complex law.

Penalties for violation of the FLSA can cost you millions – not to mention attorneys' fees and lost productivity. Avoid all of this AND MORE with Exempt vs. Non-Exempt: How to Make the Call and Avoid FLSA Overtime Lawsuits. Get your copy today!
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