Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees in California

Your employment status can be confusing to navigate. One of the biggest misconceptions regarding employment status is that California employees who earn a salary do not have the capacity to earn overtime. This is not the law – in fact, being a salaried employee is only one piece of the puzzle. The more critical issue involves the scope of your job duties and the things you do on a day-to-day basis. If you believe your employer is classifying you under the wrong employment status, a Los Angeles employment attorney at Mathew & George can help.

What Is an Exempt Employee?

An exempt employee does not enjoy protections outlined in the Fair Labor and Standards Act, and they are therefore not entitled to overtime pay. Some jobs are exempt from FLSA standards by definition, such as airline employees and outside sales staff. For most professions, however, an employee may be exempt if he or she meets the following criteria:

  • He or she receives a salary of at least $23,600 per year
  • He or she receives this money on a salaried basis
  • He or she performs exempt job duties.

Salary requirements do not apply to certain professions that pay by the hour, such as physicians or teachers.

Many times, companies will give employees job titles and the appearance of being an exempt employee, when they are in fact performing different job functions that those outlined in their job description. This is a violation of the FLSA and California Labor Code, since an employee should receive overtime for going beyond his or her job description.

According to the California Labor Code, if you, as an employee, are not using your independent judgment to complete your outlined job duties at least 50% of the time, you should be a non-exempt employee that can make overtime.

What Is a Non-Exempt Employee?

A non-exempt employee, by contrast, enjoys additional protections under the Fair Labor and Standards Act. This means you may receive overtime for working over 40 hours a week and you are entitled to a minimum wage. Certain types of employees have exclusion from FLSA, such as agricultural workers. Other professions, such as truck drivers, have additional regulations set forth by another federal body (the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, in this case).

Non-exempt employees must receive overtime for any time they work beyond 40 hours in a given week. Under the laws of FLSA, non-exempt employees must receive one and a half times their pay for each hour of overtime they work. Non-exempt employees who work “off-the-clock” hours who do not receive appropriate compensation may file an FLSA claim with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Most employees who work on an hourly wage are in fact non-exempt employees. Unfortunately, employers may try to hide this fact to prevent paying employees the overtime they deserve. This is one of the most common FLSA violations and employees must understand their rights and responsibilities under the California Labor Code so they can properly protect their right to fair compensation under the law.

What Can I Do If I Think I Am Non-Exempt?

If you are an exempt employee and think you might be a non-exempt employee based on the information we outlined above, you have legal options. Your first step is to speak with your human resources department and learn more about your job status or ask for a review. You could also speak with an overtime pay attorney or contact us to learn more about your current job status and legal options.

Many employees don’t understand the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees, especially as it pertains to their own employment. By understanding the difference, you can advocate for yourself at work and earn fair compensation for overtime hours if you indeed should be a non-exempt employee.