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Qualify for professional exemption? Check job, not degree

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employees who work more than 40 hours a week receive overtime for the extra hours. But many jobs and positions are exempt from FLSA OT rules, including some filled by people who qualify for the “learned professional exemption.”

But heads up: Just because the employee holds an advanced degree or professional certification doesn’t automatically make him or her exempt. It is the job duties that count.

The position must be one that requires the job-holder to have specialized college-level training in a field of science or learning. Look at the job requirements, not the person holding that job.

Recent case: An engineering firm fired property assessor Cyrus Stell, who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is a licensed engineer in Texas and Arizona. He sued, demanding OT plus double damages. He alleged the company wrongly classified him as exempt under the learned professional exemption.

The company argued that Stell’s degree and certification showed he was a “learned professional.” But the court said proof that Stell was a degreed engineer wasn’t enough. The employer, who had the burden of proof to show its classification was correct, couldn’t show that the job Stell held required him to apply that specialized knowledge. It then ordered a trial. (Stell v. Engineering & Fire Investigations, No. 06-00827, SD TX, 2007)

Online resource   For more on the learned professional exemption, read a U.S. Labor Department opinion letter on the subject. Go to www.dol.gov/esa/whd/opinion/flsa.htm, select the year 2005 and read opinion letter FLSA 2005-28.

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