Partial-week suspensions can strip workers’ exempt status

Los Angeles and its Department of Water and Power occasionally suspended salaried employees without pay, and now it may have to pony up overtime for groups of employees.

The reason: Some of those suspensions were for more or less than a week, which isn't kosher under federal law. (Block v. City of Los Angeles, No. 99-56061, 9th Cir., 2001)

Strange but true: Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you can suspend an exempt employee for less than a week only for major safety violations. Unpaid, partial- week suspensions for any other reason are not allowed under the FLSA without employees losing their exempt-from-overtime status.

Advice: Stay on the good side of the FLSA when disciplining exempt workers, stick to only full-week suspensions.

This court noted that suspensions of more than a week and less than two weeks also would violate the FLSA because the partial second week fails to meet the full-week threshold. For example, if you suspend a worker from Monday of one week through Wednesday of the following week, you can lose the exemption.

FLSA Compliance D

Finally, even if you have a written policy against partial-week suspensions, if you violate your policy enough times you'll still lose the worker's exempt status. How many is too many? There's no clear answer. When you have an "actual practice" of illegal deductions from exempt workers' pay, you also can lose the opportunity to fix the problem through the "window of correction" the Labor Department sometimes allows.