Overview of the FLSA Exemptions - Learned Professionals

Fair Labor Standards Act

Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Nurses, Scientists, Writers and Artists are often considered to be professionals who are not entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay. While this is often correct, analysis of the specific exemption requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is required to determine whether a particular employee is entitled to overtime or not. According to the federal regulations, there are two types of professionals: Learned Professionals and Creative Professionals. In this post, we will discuss the requirements for the Learned Professional exemption.

The Learned Professional

In order to qualify for the Learned Professional exemption, the FLSA requires that the following requirements are met:

  1. The Learned Professional must be paid a salary of at least $455 per week; (NOTE – Not required for Doctors, Lawyers or Teachers)
  2. The Learned Professional’s primary duty must be to perform work requiring advanced knowledge;
  3. The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
  4. The Advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.  See 29 C.F.R. 541.301.

Unless each of these requirements are met (except the salary requirement for Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers), the worker will be entitled to overtime and minimum wages. In the paragraphs that follow, we will provide you with an overview of the analysis that must go into determining whether these requirements are met. One key point to remember while reading is that it is the employer’s burden to prove that its employee is exempt from the minimum wage and overtime pay provisions of the Act.

First, except for Doctors, Lawyers & Teachers who may be paid hourly, the employer must show that the worker receives a true salary. As we have discussed in other posts, there are many pitfalls to a salary that can prevent the applicability of the FLSA exemptions. For example, certain deductions may cause an employee who would be otherwise exempt from overtime to be entitled to both minimum wages and overtime pay. If you have had deductions to your pay, you should contact an experienced wage and hour law attorney to make sure that such deductions do not make you eligible for minimum wages and overtime pay. For more information about whether you are being properly paid on a salary, please review this article on the characteristics of a salary.

Second, the employer must show that your primary duty is to perform work requiring advanced knowledge. This generally requires a showing that your primary duty requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment with regards to intellectual concepts relating to your advanced knowledge. If you perform routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work, you are not likely performing work that requires advanced knowledge.

Third, the advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning. This includes the traditional professions of law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, science, pharmacy and other jobs where recognized professional status is normally required for those in the occupation. This does not typically include mechanical arts or skilled trades where although advanced knowledge is required, it is not in a field of science or learning.

Finally, the employer must be able to show that the advanced knowledge is customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. This means that the Learned Professional is often only applicable to persons holding a standard prerequisite degree or certificate. However, there are some exceptions where a person could have acquired the requisite knowledge through life experience or other non-traditional training. This requirement is often the factor that is most determinative of whether a worker is entitled to overtime and minimum wage. For example, Licensed Nurse Practitioners (“LPNs”) and Certified Nurses Assistants (“CNAs”) are often misclassified as exempt. Although, an LPN or CNA is working in the medical field and must possess a license or certification, the advanced knowledge that they have is not “customarily acquired by a prolonged course” of study. Although, LPN or CNA programs may require as much as two years of specialized schooling, the federal regulations state that the training required for CNAs and LPNs is not a “prolonged course” of study.

Determining whether a worker is an exempt learned professional often requires the detailed analysis of an attorney. If you are classified as an exempt employee and have questions about how you are being compensated, contact an experienced wage and hour employment lawyer today.