White Collar Exemptions even if your collar isn’t white.

Oh man has it been a while. But the last time we were in this series we were going to start talking about “exemptions” and then we had proposed regs and then I got really busy and well, you know how it goes. So back to Exemptions.   And by exemptions I mean not having to pay overtime. That is what you thought I meant right? And we are going to start with the biggest category of exemptions, the White Collar Exemptions. I love that old school term. According to Wiki:

 The term refers to the white dress shirts of male office workers common through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Western countries, as opposed to the blue overalls worn by many manual laborers.

 The term “white collar” is credited to Upton Sinclair, an American writer, in relation to contemporary clerical, administrative, and management workers during the 1930s, though references to white-collar work appear as early as 1911.

 I love the term because I am a so called “white collar worker” but I don’t wear that many “white collars.” Mine tend to be a bit more colorful.


So what do the regulations mean when taking about this particular topic? Excellent question:

(a) Section 13(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended, provides an exemption from the Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements for any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity (including any employee employed in the capacity of academic administrative personnel or teacher in elementary or secondary schools), or in the capacity of an outside sales employee, as such terms are defined and delimited from time to time by regulations of the Secretary, subject to the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act. Section 13(a)(17) of the Act provides an exemption from the minimum wage and overtime requirements for computer systems analysts, computer programmers, software engineers, and other similarly skilled computer employees.

29 CFR §541.0

Look at the list, now you know.   Seems like an easy solution to having to pay overtime right, just classify your employees as “executive, administrative or professional” and away you go. Not so fast. First, the regulations make it clear that a job title alone is not enough. “A job title alone is insufficient to establish the exempt status of an employee. The exempt or nonexempt status of any particular employee must be determined on the basis of whether the employee’s salary and duties meet the requirements of the regulations in this part.”   29 CFR §541.2.

If I can’t just change the job title, how do I meet one of these exemptions. For there are whole lists of jobs that are excluded: (a) The section 13(a)(1) exemptions and the regulations in this part do not apply to manual laborers or other “blue collar” workers who perform work involving repetitive operations with their hands, physical skill and energy.” 29 CFR §541.3(a).   Similarly,

(b)(1) The section 13(a)(1) exemptions and the regulations in this part also do not apply to police officers, detectives, deputy sheriffs, state troopers, highway patrol officers, investigators, inspectors, correctional officers, parole or probation officers, park rangers, fire fighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, ambulance personnel, rescue workers, hazardous materials workers and similar employees, regardless of rank or pay level, who perform work such as preventing, controlling or extinguishing fires of any type; rescuing fire, crime or accident victims; preventing or detecting crimes; conducting investigations or inspections for violations of law; performing surveillance; pursuing, restraining and apprehending suspects; detaining or supervising suspected and convicted criminals, including those on probation or parole; interviewing witnesses; interrogating and fingerprinting suspects; preparing investigative reports; or other similar work.

 29 CFR §541.3(b).   Why not? “Such employees do not qualify as exempt executive employees because their primary duty is not management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof as required under §541.100.” “Such employees do not qualify as exempt administrative employees because their primary duty is not the performance of work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers as required under §541.200.” And “Such employees do not qualify as exempt professionals because their primary duty is not the performance of work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction or the performance of work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor as required under §541.300.” Id. at (2)(3) & (4). That’s why.