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‘Manager’: the most legally explosive (And expensive) word

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Put article on home page during week of Oct. 29, 2007 -- not used in HR Weekly

Q. When is a manager not really a manager?

A. When the person performs the same duties as rank-and-file workers.

That seemingly obvious point is becoming an expensive one at many organizations. Caribou Coffee, for example, is defending its classification of store managers as exempt from overtime. More than 400 store managers say they perform basically the same duties as front-line baristas and are entitled to overtime pay. Starbucks faces a similar suit.  

The bottom line: Titles don’t matter. For managers to be truly exempt, they must do more than work the floor. Their duties should include tasks that rely on “discretion and independent judgment” and are related to management.

Exempt managers still can spend a good amount of time performing tasks that look like hourly work, as long as their “primary” duty is management.

Recent case: William Sutherland worked as an exempt “manager of marketing and communications” for SOSi International. But he claimed his actual duties weren’t management at all, so he sued for unpaid overtime.

SOSi asked the court to make Sutherland explain why he thought he was an hourly employee. But the court said it doesn’t work that way. The employer must explain why it classified the employee as exempt, not the other way around. And slapping a fancy job title on an otherwise hourly job won’t work. (Sutherland v. SOSi International, No. 1:07-CV-557, ED VA, 2007)

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