Every year, several California exempt employees are victims of overtime laws violations made by their employers. For instance, the biggest assumption employers make is that any salaried/exempt worker is not eligible for overtime pay. This is not the case. A significant number of salaried workers are either non-exempt or do not fall within the specific exemptions stipulated in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

While earning a salary is one of the criteria for being exempt from overtime pay, it’s only one of the several requirements. Moreover, if all the conditions are not met, you are non-exempt and must be compensated for overtime.  Also, often, employers tend to misclassify workers as exempt to avoid paying overtime. If you are in Long Beach CA and have this problem with your employer, reach out to The Workers Compensation Attorney Group. Our attorneys represent employees in wage and hour disputes, help underpaid employees, or those who are misclassified as exempt from overtime. We help exploited workers recover the wages they deserve, including overtime.

The Definition of Overtime Pay

Overtime in California refers to the time or hours you work past eight hours of work per day or forty hours per week (Labor Code 510). Generally, work done after eight hours of work pass in a day has to be compensated. The compensation should be at a rate of not lower than one and a half of your standard pay rate. Additionally, any excess work done after forty hours of work in a week has to be compensated for at a rate of not lower than one and a half of your standard pay rate.

Under the Employment and Labor Codes of California State, salaried workers are categorized as non-exempt or exempt. Exempt workers are workers to whom essential wage and hour laws like overtime laws don’t apply. On the other hand, non-exempt workers are protected by wage and hour laws, which include overtime laws as well as laws that require rest and meal breaks.

It is commonly mistaken that anybody who is employed in an office or receives a salary is an exempt worker. This isn’t true. For instance, you may be a salaried exempt worker, but your employer deducts your pay when you:

  1. Are late for work
  2. Miss work, or
  3. Have to leave early

In this case, you are no longer an exempt worker and must be paid overtime.

The primary and most essential category of exempt workers is administrative, executive, and professional workers who earn not less than two times the minimum wage. The exemption to overtime laws can also be referred to as white-collar exemption.

A worker is exempt from overtime laws only if they meet the legal California Labor Code definition. An employer cannot make an employee an exempt worker by only:

  • Having them sign an agreement stating that they are an exempt worker
  • Paying their salary instead of hourly wages

On the other hand, for an employee to be exempt from overtime laws, they have to:

  • Be majorly engaged in administrative, professional, and executive duties. Generally, this means that over 50% of their work time should be allocated to these tasks.
  • Earn remuneration that equals at least two times full-time California minimum wage. Full-time work means 40 hours per week of work.
  • Customarily and regularly exercise independent judgment and discretion at work.

As from January 2019, the lowest annual salary needed for a worker to be exempt under overtime exemption laws equals to $45,760 (in case the employer retains not more than 26 employees).

Other Exempt Employees

In addition to the white-collar employees we mentioned above, the law elucidates that other workers are also classified as exempt, and therefore, the overtime laws do not apply to them.  Many of the workers covered by these particular exemptions may also be exempt under the general exemption. They include:

Registered Nurses

There’s an exception to the usual professional wage per hour exemption when it comes to registered nurses.  Usually, these nurses are no-exempt workers. This means they are entitled to overtime, except if they are predominantly engaged in administrative or executive duties. They are also exempt if they meet other white-collar exemption requirements.

Computer Software Employees

The Labor Code exempts specific professionals in the computer software field from wage and hour and overtime laws. The exemption will apply to you if you work predominantly in:

  • The analysis of computer systems
  • Computer hardware or software design
  • Computer program, system design
  • Computer development

Apart from being primarily involved with the above tasks, all the following must be true:

  1. You are majorly involved in creative or intellectual work, which requires you to exercise independent judgment or discretion.
  2. You are highly proficient and skilled when it comes to applying much-specialized info to computer programming, software engineering, or systems analysis.
  3. You earn at the minimum $94,603.25 a year or $45.41 in an hour. The wages have to be paid monthly (these are 2019 figures and may increase based on inflation).

The Computer software professional wage per hour exemption won’t apply to you if:

  • You are an entry-level or trainee who is still learning how to apply significantly specialized info in the field of computers.
  • You haven’t attained the expertise and skill to do your duties without being closely supervised.
  • You are engaged in computer operation or computer hardware repair, maintenance, or manufacture.
  • You are an engineer or drafter who has excellent skills in computer design and not in computer programming, systems analysis, etc.
  • You are engaged in skilled computer programming or systems analysis with the primary purpose of generating effects imageries for the TV, theater, or movie industry.
  • You are a writer who provides content related to computers or software.

Surgeons and Doctors

Another category of workers exempt under overtime rules is licensed doctors and surgeons who are primarily engaged in duties that need licensure.  The exemption doesn’t apply to interns, residents, or doctors that are covered by collective bargaining contracts.

If you are a doctor, you must be earning not less than $82.72 for you to meet the wage per hour laws exemption requirements. Or, your full-time remuneration should be equal to as of 2019. Note that the salary amount changes with inflation.

Private K-12 School Teachers

Private K-12 school teachers are another category of professionals that are exempt from the California overtime laws. If you are a private school teacher and want to be eligible for the wage per hour exemption, you have to:

  • Regularly and customarily exercise independent judgment and discretion
  • Be predominantly involved with the duty of educating students
  • Have valid teaching credentials or a bachelor’s or higher degree from an approved university

Overtime exemption laws for private K-12 school teachers apply only to those teachers who get the higher of these amounts:

  • 70% of the least salary paid to approved teachers in the county or city the school is situated
  • 100% of the least salary that any school district in the state of California pays to approved teachers

For instance, Ben teaches kindergarten in a private school. His salary equals to $38,000 per year. The pay isn’t high enough to make Ben be entitled to be generally exempt from overtime laws. However, Ben’s job description qualifies him to be exempt from private school teachers’ wage and hour law. The least salary paid to a public-school teacher where Ben works equals to $34,000, and he gets higher than that. Thus, Ben qualifies to be an exempt worker. The school in which he is employed isn’t required to award him overtime pay.

Employees of the University of California and the Government

Overtime, rest breaks, and meal break laws don’t affect local government or state employees. Additionally, all workers of the University of California are exempt from these laws as per California the constitution.  

Workers Earning Commissions

Employees who earn commissions for the job they do are exempt from overtime laws. This applies to workers who:

  • Earn over one and a half times the lowest wage
  • Earn over half of what they are compensated for commission

Truck Drivers

Overtime laws do not protect specific truck drivers. However, they are not exempt from other employment rights like rest and meal breaks and the minimum wage. Overtime exemption applies to drivers that transport dangerous materials and interstate truck drivers. In these situations, the working hours of drivers are regulated by either California motor vehicle regulations or federal regulations.

Getting Overtime for Salaried/Exempt Workers- Is It Possible?

The general rule of employment in the State of California is; if you work over eight hours a day or over forty hours per week, then you are eligible for overtime pay. However, employers sometimes tell certain workers that they do not qualify for overtime wages since they earn a salary instead of hourly wages. In a situation like this, the worker believes that they are required to work for long hours but has no right to receive any overtime wages.

The truth of this is quite complicated. In California, when you get employed, you begin with the assumption that you have the right to receive overtime pay in case you work overtime hours. The burden to prove that you’re exempt from overtime laws lies with your employer. The employer must show that you earn enough salary to be eligible for an exemption.  Presently, you need to be making not less than $33,280 per year for your employer to categorize you under most overtime exemptions. If you earn less than the above amount, then in most cases, you will be eligible for overtime wages.

You should earn enough salary not to be entitled to overtime pay. However, even then, your employer still needs to show that the kind of work you do lies within overtime exemption.  Common overtime exemptions, as we saw earlier, includes the administrative, professional, and executive exemptions.  If you fall within the job requirements for these exemptions, you are not eligible for overtime regardless of how many hours per week or day you work.

Misclassification As An Exempt Worker

As we mentioned before, workers can be categorized either as non-exempt or exempt. This is for federal and California wage & hour laws purposes. Specific wage and hour laws do not protect exempt workers, while non-exempt workers have the right to these protections.

A California employee is legally considered non-exempt if they perform non-exempt duties for the company they work for. Also, the employee should spend over 50% of their time working irrespective of their job title. Exempt workers are usually paid a yearly salary while non-exempt workers are typically paid per hour.

For instance, your job may entail filling drinks and flipping burgers, and you do that over 50% of your time. in this case, you will be classified as non-exempt even if the title of your job is ‘‘manager.’’ The same rule still applies also if you are rewarded based on salary instead of an hourly rate. If you are a non-exempt worker, you must get overtime pay as well as regular rest and meal breaks.

Frequently, and perhaps deliberately, employers categorize workers under either of the above exemptions without a proper basis to do so, thus violating labor laws. For instance, for you to be exempt from overtime under the executive exemption, you have to supervise not less than two employees frequently. You should also have input in disciplinary actions, hiring, or firing. In most cases, certain employers will give a worker a supervisory designation and pay them a salary with the hope that this qualifies the worker to be exempt.

Mostly, in cases like this, the supervisor is primarily a lead and has little actual executive power. This is because they will spend much time doing the same job as their subordinates. In these cases, there’s a probable misclassification. The supervisor might be eligible for a large overtime amount, which has accumulated but hasn’t been paid. There’s also similar abuse when it comes to a professional and administrative exemption.

California workers can file a claim against their employers for disobeying labor laws. Successful wage and hour lawsuits often are to do with failure to appropriately classify workers, failure to pay overtime, or violations for equal pay. 

When you are wrongly classified as exempt, your employer might owe you damages for unpaid overtime. Also, the employer may owe you an hour’s pay for every meal break you were denied. Violating the Equal Pay Act by your employer means the employer could be responsible for the wages you were deprived of. The payments include interest, attorney fees, as well as an additional equivalent amount to liquidated damages.

When your employer retaliates against you in violation of the Equal Pay Act, by reducing your salary, hours, or terminating you, you can recover damages for this. You may recover reimbursement and reinstatement for lost work and wages caused by your employer’s acts. It is also possible to recover interest and proper equitable relief.

In case you have been misclassified as exempt and have been cheated out of overtime pay, attorneys from The Workers Compensation Attorney Group can help you. We will ensure you recover your overtime wages. Call us for more details on overtime laws in Long Beach and how you can receive the wages you deserve.  Our attorneys handle both lawsuits and wage claims for this type of worker. To stand a chance of being compensated, you need an expert attorney who is experienced in both California FLSA and Labor Code for government workers and the private sector. Our attorneys boast all these qualifications. 

Salary Reduction for Exempt Workers

Generally, an employer can lower the salary of an employee for any legal reason. There’s no specific labor law in California that forbids an employer to reduce an employee’s wage. However, an employer cannot lower an employee’s salary to a rate that is lower than the minimum compensation.

If you are an exempt worker, your employer can lower your salary, provided the salary doesn’t fall below the minimum wage requirement for exempt employees. The 2019 minimum salary requirement for exempt employees equals to $49,920 for workers with twenty-five or fewer workers and $45,760 for employers with more than 25 employees.

If your salary drops to less than the minimum salary requirements, you may not be considered an exempt employee anymore. This means you may become a non-exempt employee. Moreover, as a non-exempt worker, you would be protected under wage and hour laws. This includes rest breaks, meal breaks, and overtime pay.

However, if your employer lowers your salary depending on reduced hours of work, it may not disqualify your exempt status. Salary reduction depending on hours of work is inconsistent with the salary basis standard of exempt workers.  Exempt workers presumably earn a salary depending on their job position; not for the total number of hours they work.

Unauthorized Overtime

Many employees would be asking if they will get paid for working unauthorized overtime. The answer is yes. The law compels employers to pay overtime wages whether or not it is authorized. An employer may discipline a worker if they violate an employer’s rule of working overtime with no authorization. However, wage and hour laws dictate that the worker be paid for the hours they are permitted or suffered to work. This applies, whether he/she was required to do so or not.

Case laws of California hold that permit or suffer means duties the employer was aware of or should have been aware of. Therefore, a worker cannot purposely prevent their employer from knowing about the unauthorized overtime they worked and later come back to claim compensation. At the same time, the employer is obligated to keep correct and precise time records. They have to compensate for the work they provide, to which you benefit.

Another scenario is that, an employer can dictate a worker’s work hours and schedule. Also, under most conditions, the employer can discipline a worker, including terminating the worker if the worker refuses to work scheduled overtime. However, the employer can’t punish you if you refuse to work on the 7th day in a workweek. If the employer forces you to work on this day, they should be penalized for inducing or causing you to forego your day of rest. A worker who is fully informed of their right to rest can independently choose not to rest.

Overtime payment has to be made before the payday of the next normal payroll period, after which the overtime wages were earned (Labor Code 204).

Note that a worker can’t waive their right to overtime pay. The law dictates that a worker must be compensated for all the overtime hours they worked regardless of any contract made to work for a lower wage. Thus, even if the worker waives the right to overtime pay, the waiver won’t prevent the worker from recovering the overtime compensation they are entitled to get (Labor Code 1194).

Steps to Take if you are not Compensated for Overtime Hours

If your employer doesn’t pay you overtime, you can follow either of these two steps. One is filing a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (the Office of the Labor Commissioner). The second step is to file a lawsuit against your employer. You should do this with the help of an attorney to improve the chance of recovering all the wages you lost. Also, if you do not work for the employer anymore, you could file a claim for the waiting time penalty as per Labor Code 203.

Get a Long Beach Workers Compensation Attorney Near Me

If you are in Long Beach and believe you have been unjustly denied your overtime pay, The Workers Compensation Attorney Group can help you. We will determine whether or not you qualify for the overtime. Also, if your employer improperly classified you as an exempt worker, our attorneys may help you solve the situation and hold the employer liable for your overtime. Call us at 714-716-5933 to share your case and let us take the necessary steps towards recovering your pay. We will help you file a lawsuit and accord the best possible legal representation that may get you compensated.