Mixed Duties and the FLSA

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

We regularly write about overtime issues for employers and employees.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) creates a baseline right to overtime for millions of employees, and many states have enacted their own labor laws to enhance those rights.

However, the FLSA and its state counterparts do not require employers to pay all employees overtime; these statutes include large swaths of workers who are “exempt” from the overtime pay requirements.  For example, the FLSA includes exemptions for “professional” employees, which includes individuals such as doctors, teachers, architects, and most employees who need to have an advanced degree; “executive” employees, which includes many individuals who have managerial or supervisory responsibilities; “administrative” employees, which includes individuals who, roughly, perform office work related to the employer’s business operations and can function autonomously; and more specific exemptions for certain industries, such as outside salespeople and agricultural workers.  These exemptions are complex, and the single-sentence summary above does not do justice to the millions of hours that thousands of attorneys have spent litigating these issues.  In short, lawyers, judges, and administrators must look at an employee’s specific job responsibilities to determine whether they are exempt or not.

Some of the most difficult overtime cases arise out of scenarios where the employee’s role blurs the line between exempt and non-exempt.  Employees often spend time performing both exempt and non-exempt work.  Likewise, employers frequently create positions with titles and job descriptions describing job duties that would render an employee exempt, but then assign the employee largely non-exempt work.  Similarly, employees occasionally decide to perform non-exempt tasks or decide not to perform their exempt duties.

The common thread that runs through all these cases is the type of case-specific, fact-intensive analysis that the court must undertake to arrive at a decision.  For example, a California court made clear that, where an alleged “outside salesperson” claimed not to have performed much of the outside sales duties that he was assigned, the court still needed to analyze how the employee spent his time, what his assigned duties were, what duties he performed, and whether those duties were “exempt” or not.  Similarly, a New Jersey court addressed a case where general managers of Friendly’s restaurants, who were responsible for scheduling shifts at their restaurants, ended up needing to perform significant amounts of exempt work.  The New Jersey court cited to the California decision above and found that an acceptable analysis included reviewing the employee’s job functions, the employer’s expectations, and the actual breakdown of the employee’s time.

Both the above cases were decided under state statutes, rather than the FLSA, so their direct impact is limited.  However, the overall message describing the type of detailed analysis that mixed-duties overtime cases require is applicable everywhere.

If you believe that you have been denied overtime pay, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.