If you classify some employees as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s professional exemption, make sure their jobs truly meet the criteria. Otherwise, you risk a potential wage-and-hour lawsuit for unpaid overtime.
To claim the exemption, employers have to show that the job requires training in a field of science or learning and knowledge that is “customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction,” typically at the college level.
Taking an essentially technical position and calling it “professional” won’t fly.
Recent case: Two helicopter pilots sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for unpaid overtime. A court awarded them about $150,000.
The Port Authority appealed, arguing that the pilots had been properly classified as and therefore weren’t owed overtime.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals looked carefully at the training and certifications the pilots were required to hold.
Although they held several licenses, they weren’t required to have a college or other advanced degree. And the pilots spend next to no time in the classroom. Instead, most of their training consists of actually flying and logging their flight hours. That, according to the court, didn’t qualify them as exempt professionals. They were trained technicians. (Pignataro, et al., v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, No. 08-3605, 3rd Cir., 2010)
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