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What Makes an Employee Overtime Exempt?

Most jobs in the United States are governed per the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Though the FLSA language applies to most jobs, some are considered exempt from its overtime rules.

Exclusions from the FLSA’s Overtime Rules

Two types of exclusion from the FLSA’s overtime rules exist. Farmworkers and movie theater employees are not governed by the overtime rules of the FLSA partially due to the obscure logic used back in the 1930s when the law was written.

These workers also lack a powerful labor union to fight for full coverage under the FLSA. Some claim that extending FLSA coverage to farm workers and movie theater workers would hinder labor leaders’ collective bargaining efforts with employers. Since the status of these employees is written into law, only Congress can alter the statute.      

The second type of exclusion is for types of work that are governed by another federal labor law. If a specific federal labor law governs a job, the FLSA and its overtime rules will not apply.


Those who are governed by the language of the FLSA hold jobs that are classified as exempt or nonexempt. Most workers governed by the FLSA are nonexempt status. Exempt employees are not provided with overtime pay while nonexempt employees are provided with overtime pay.

Certain positions are exempt per the definition. For example, those who work positions considered to be “outside sales” are exempt while those who work “inside sales” jobs are nonexempt.

Exempt status hinges on several factors. For most workers, variables determine exempt/nonexempt status such as their pay rate, how this payment is provided and the style of work performed.

Though there are exceptions, employees are exempt if they earn a minimum of $23,600 each year, are paid by salary and perform job duties classified as exempt. Each of these standards is described by the U.S. Department of Labor’s FLSA Regulations. For the most part, employees must meet each of these three standards to be exempt.

Exempt Duties

If an employee meets the income and salary tests outlined above, the final step to becoming exempt from the FLSA is performing exempt duties. It is not the worker’s title that matters but his actual work tasks. Exempt job duties fall into three groups: administrative, professional, and executive.

Executive job duties are exempt if the work involves supervising two or more employees, providing input into the employment status of other workers and requires management as a main component of the position.

Job duties described as falling under the “learned professions” such as doctors, teachers, lawyers, clergy, dentists, and architects are exempt.

Administrative workers who “keep the operation running” have exempt duties as their responsibilities are office/non-manual work, matters of “significance”, directly related to management, and require the use of independent judgment.

The overtime rules of the FLSA do not apply to every single employee working in the United States.  One’s position, as well as his duties, play a part in determining whether he is overtime exempt.  It must be noted that the rules set forth by the FLSA are not static.  They can be altered at any point in the future.  

Be sure to check for updates to the nuanced language of the FLSA before concluding that certain employees are exempt or non-exempt from overtime rules.

What Makes an Employee Overtime Exempt?
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