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Why your salaried job may not make you exempt from overtime pay

Going from being an hourly employee to a salaried one is often seen as a step up in the workplace. Salaried jobs have long been perceived (or misperceived) as being more valuable than hourly jobs and held by those with more education or highly coveted skills.

It's also widely assumed that salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay and required breaks. They're expected to work as many hours as needed to get the job done and make the organization successful.

However, under California law, many salaried employees are entitled to overtime pay based on the number of hours worked in a day or a week as well as designated meal breaks, just as hourly employees are. For an employee to be exempt from overtime regulations, he or she must meet criteria laid out by the state's Industrial Welfare Commission. These include the following:

  • The employee's monthly salary is at least double California's full-time minimum wage.
  • The employee must spend more than 50 percent of his or her time on duties related to a specific exemption (administrative, executive or professional).
  • The employee "regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment in performing those duties."

There are additional requirements under California law depending on the type of exemption an employee has. For example, someone with a professional exemption generally has a professional license, specialized knowledge and/or an artistic ability. Those with executive exemptions need to have assigned managerial responsibilities like hiring and firing. Employees with administrative exemptions are involved in office or other non-manual tasks in the organization.

Employers that incorrectly classify workers as exempt may be ordered to reimburse employees for back pay and have to pay additional penalties. If you believe that you have been wrongly categorized as an exempt employee and that you aren't getting the pay and other workplace protections you're entitled to, you may want to consult a California attorney with experience handling wage and hour violations. Your time and your skills are valuable, and you deserve to be properly compensated.

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