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Do help-Desk workers qualify for the computer exemption?

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

While the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says certain computer professionals are exempt employees, be ultra-cautious about applying this exemption.

Courts are littered with cases of employers being punished for wrongly applying exempt status to lower-level IT workers, such as help-desk staff (aka “IT support specialists”).

In a recent opinion letter, the U.S. Labor Department said some IT support specialists are not covered by the FLSA’s administrative exemption because their jobs are not “directly related” to their company’s management or general operations.

In this case ( as with many other help desks) the duties of the computer-support specialists involved installing, configuring, testing and trouble-shooting computer applications, networks and hardware.

While that’s complex work, the Labor Department said it doesn’t require the employees to exercise “discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance with respect to management or general business operations of the employer,” as is required to obtain the exemption status.

An administration exemption applies to IT employees who:

  • Earn a minimum of $455 per week, or $27.63 per hour.
  • Are expected to exercise discretion and independent judgment on “matters of significance.”
  • Have a primary duty involving the management or general business operations of the employer or its customers.

In addition, IT employees who are covered by FLSA’s computer professional employee exemption are those whose primary responsibilities include:

  • The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications.
  • The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to user or system design specifications.
  • The design, documentation, testing, creation or modification of computer programs related to machine operating systems.
  • A combination of the above duties, the performance of which requires the same level of skills.

To read the opinion letter, visit www.dol.gov/esa/whd/opinion/flsa.htm and click on FLSA2006-42.  

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