Employers and employees have long struggled about the employer’s obligation to pay overtime to the employees. In 1938, the United States Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The FLSA has many working parts, but some of its most important provisions are the sections mandating the payment of overtime compensation and defining workers who are exempt from this requirement.
The basic rule is simple: every employee who is not exempt from the mandatory overtime rule must be paid one-and-one-half times of his or her basic hourly wage for every hour in excess of forty worked in a normal week. Many employers have attempted to escape this rule by “defining” employees as exempt. The mandatory overtime rules do not apply to supervisory or salaried workers. However, in reality, not all employees satisfy this definition.
An employer may attempt to escape the payment of mandatory overtime by designating a class of employees as “supervisory” or “professional” even though their actual job duties have nothing to do with supervision other employees. The Department of Labor has promulgated many regulations that are aimed at clarifying the kinds of job duties that may render an employee exempt from the mandatory overtime regulations. In the end, the basic determinant of exemption is reality: does the employee perform job duties that involve the kind of work that is generally considered to be exempt from the mandatory overtime requirement? Unless a specific job fits unambiguously within an exempt category, each dispute must be resolved on a case-by-case basis.
An employer’s failure to pay mandatory overtime in violation of the FLSA or the Labor Department’s regulations can be held liable to the employees and to the Labor Department for unpaid overtime and for the employee’s attorneys’ fees. Anyone who is uncertain about their right to receive overtime may wish to consult an experienced labor lawyer for advice on how the scheme of exemptions works and whether a lawsuit to collect back pay is warranted.