A few months back, I talked about how overtime lawsuits are on the rise (Can salaried employees receive overtime pay?), and that employers need to be especially careful with how they classify their employees (exempt vs. non-exempt).
Well, I just learned of a recent court case that highlights just how important it is to get this right. As the blog post, Court of Appeals affirms overtime ruling for non-exempt worker under FLSA, explains, “The Second Circuit has ruled in favor of a worker who was denied overtime pay, ruling that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not exempt workers whose job skills are not customarily the product of advanced educational training.”
Here are the details of Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp.: Andrew Young was a highly skilled “Product Design Specialist II” with 20 years of engineering-type experience when he was hired. His work at Cooper Cameron involved complicated technical expertise and responsibility, including designing hydraulic power units for oil drilling rigs. Like his fellow PDS IIs at the company, however, Young did not have any formal education beyond a high school diploma.
When he lost his job in 2004 in a reduction in force (RIF), he sued the company for the overtime he’d been denied due to his classification as an exempt professional.
The court ruled in his favor.
Why? The issue lies with the definition of “professional capacity,” a legal standard that exempts an employee from overtime pay under the FLSA. According to FLSA regulations, an exempt professional is someone “whose primary duty consists of the performance of work requiring knowledge of an advance type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized instruction and study.”
The judgment in Young’s favor was due largely to the fact that although Young had technical expertise, his job did not require a prolonged course of specialized intellectual study. Plus, none of the other product design specialists at Cooper Cameron had advanced degrees – they were all high school graduates with no college training.
Not a good day in court for Cooper Cameron. Young was wrongly classified as an exempt professional and as such, was entitled to overtime pay under FLSA. (To make matters worse, the court found that the company did not act in good faith when it classified Young, changing his job title from a non-exempt position to a title that “sounded” more professional.)
Don’t let the overtime rules overwhelm you! Check out the ComplyRight Now E-Guide Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees, for help figuring out whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt – and to steer clear of FLSA-related employee lawsuits like this.