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The Learned Professional and Administrative Exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Introduction

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is a federal law that establishes minimum wage, overtime, and other employment standards, which affect both private and public employers. There are many “exemptions” within the FLSA that permit employers to avoid paying their employees minimum wage and/or overtime, thus designating such employees as “exempt.” One such exemption is the “learned or administrative exemption.” To meet either exemption, the employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis at no less than the standard salary level. Additionally, both exemptions look to the employee’s “primary duty,” which is the principal, main, major, or most important duty the employee performs.

Learned Professional Exemption

The primary duty of a learned processional must be performing work that requires advanced knowledge. Advanced knowledge is predominantly intellectual in character, requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment, must be in the field of science or learning, and customarily be acquired through a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. “In the field of science or learning” includes: law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, physical sciences, chemical sciences, biological sciences, pharmacy, and other occupations that have recognized professional status and are distinguishable from the mechanical arts or skilled trades where the knowledge could be of a fairly advanced type, but is not in a field of science or learning. However, there is another avenue to meet this exemption. Employees can also be exempt as “learned professionals” if they have substantially the same knowledge level and perform substantially the same work as the degreed employees, but who obtain the advanced knowledge through both work experience and intellectual instruction. There is also a creating professional exemption, which requires invention, imagination, originality or talent exercised by the employee.

Administrative Exemption

The primary duty of an administrative employee must satisfy three (3) requirements. First, the primary duty must be performing office or non-manual work. Second, it must include exercising discretion and independent judgment for significant matters. Finally, the primary duty must directly relate to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers. The federal regulation related to this rule describes “work directly related to management or general business operations” as “work in functional areas such as tax; finance; accounting; budgeting; auditing; insurance; quality control; purchasing; procurement; advertising; marketing; research; safety and health; personnel management; human resources; employee benefits; . . . public relations; government relations; . . . [and] legal and regulatory compliance.”

If you feel your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you.