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Salaried Exempt Laws

The Fair Labor and Standards Act requires employers to classify jobs as either salaried or salaried exempt, the main difference being that exempt employees are not covered by the rules and regulations of the Act. It follows that exempt employees—like supervisors, executives, outside sales professionals, etc., —are excluded from rights and protections like overtime pay, minimum wages, hourly wages and so on. Such employees are not paid by the hour and are expected to finish a certain task, irrespective of the number of hours spent, as negotiated. Exempt employees receive less protection under the federal law compared to non-exempt employees. For this reason, several conflicts with employers can arise. Below are some of the top questions on the subject answered by Legal Experts.

My company in Alabama had, at the time of hiring, promised salaried exempt employees like me, and hundreds of others, overtime in lieu of higher salaries through an oral agreement. After 10 years of employment, the company has stopped paying overtime. Is this legal?

The fact that hundreds of employees are affected adds gravitas to a claim/class action suit against the employer. You may get a local attorney to determine whether an oral agreement to pay overtime is binding on the employer in Alabama Contract and Employment Law.

Typically, employers may change compensation terms so long as adequate notice is given to the employees. However, in this particular case, overtime does not apply as salaried exempt employees are not entitled to overtime. The extra payments may likely be considered discretionary compensation in lieu of the obligation to pay fixed salaries. This, however, does not mean that it can be taken away without attracting liability.

Your attorney may also examine if the salaried exempt employees were in fact misclassified when they were hired and do not meet the legal requirements to be exempt from overtime. If this is the case, they should be entitled to overtime going forward. Also, the actions of the employer in regard to exempt employees—paying overtime, recording hours, not paying on days that the plant is closed, etc., — may serve to classify them as non-exempt employees entitled to overtime.

Importantly, exempt employees are not compensated on hours worked but on completing the job. The task you were assigned to by your employer may take more than 40 hours a week, but you would only be entitled to the weekly compensation agreed upon. In this particular case, the terms of exempt and non-exempt employment seem to have been mixed up, which is why you would need a local attorney to go over the facts of the case.

Isn’t it against the law to force a salaried exempt employee to take time off without pay, and not be allowed to use paid leave?

It is not illegal for a company to force a reduced work week, especially if it is applied to most salary positions and is done in a non-discriminatory manner. You may ask to be allowed to take your personal vacation days instead, which most companies allow. However, if your company practices this as a policy, it may stand to lose its “exempt status” over the salaried employees.

As a salaried exempt employee, I am paid only for the 32 hours that I work. However, if I am called at home on my off-day and asked a question about work, should I not be compensated?

Absent a contract to the contrary, an employer is legally entitled to cut the hours and salary of the exempt employee. Also, such an employee is not entitled to overtime pay. This means that you may still be required to do additional work without overtime compensation though your salary remains the same.

As a salaried exempt office manager working in the customer service and accounting division, I have been asked to carry a 24-hour hotline phone, to which I have to respond within five minutes of a call. With this, I work over 40 hours a week and even have to do a 4-hour shift on a weekend. Is this legal?

You may argue that since you are performing the duties associated with a “line hourly worker” outside of normal work hours, you would be entitled to additional compensation based on the change of duties. You may get a local employment attorney to verify the facts of your case or get a determination from the local labor commission in this regard.

I took four hours off on three different days to take my wife to the hospital and filed for FMLA leave. However, my salary was deducted for these hours. My employer maintains that since the leave was for my wife and not me, they were correct in cutting my salary. Is this legal?

As per the guidance supplied by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, exempt employees are entitled to a full day’s pay for a partial day worked. However, the employer may deduct wages for a partial day’s absence for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It adds that if an employee is absent for one and one half days, the employer may only deduct one day’s pay.

Under the FLSA, the exempt employee is not entitled to overtime. However, an employer may require the exempt employee to punch in the work hours or make up for time lost due to absences. If you need to understand your rights under the FLSA, it is best to write to Legal Experts on the matter.
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