Generally, an employer must pay employees overtime wages unless the employee is exempt under federal or state law. Determining whether an employee is overtime exempt can be difficult, especially if the employee’s duties are of a mixed nature. In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Georgia noted that it often takes a fact-intensive inquiry into the specific duties of the employee.
The case, DeKalb County v. Kirkland, involved a claim by fire captains involving accrued compensatory time. The captains contended that the county should have allowed them to use their compensatory time or paid them for it. Part of the captains’ argument relied on a provision of the county code that prohibited cash payment for compensatory time for exempt employees. They argued that they were not, in fact, overtime exempt employees, and thus the county code did not forbid payment for their accrued compensatory time.
The Court of Appeals ultimately granted summary judgment for the county. The Court noted that the determination of whether an employee is overtime exempt or nonexempt relies on his or her actual job duties. Since the captains provided no evidence to prove that they were misclassified by the county, the court could not accept their argument. Had the captains provided some evidence of their specific job duties, the Court of Appeals may have had a much harder time making a determination.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employee in Georgia is eligible for overtime pay as long as he or she works more than 40 hours in a workweek, and the job duties are not listed as overtime exemptions. Contrary to many people’s belief, simply being paid on a salary does not exempt an employee from earning overtime pay. The primary consideration for whether an employee is exempt or nonexempt is his or her job duties.
According to the FLSA, employees whose duties are executive, administrative, or professional in nature are exempt from overtime. Police, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders are also exempt from overtime, so the captains’ argument may not have been ultimately successful unless they performed mixed exempt and nonexempt duties.
The situation gets complicated when an employee performs some tasks that are exempt and others that are not. Under the FLSA, the employee’s “primary” job duties determine his or her status. Therefore, if the primary duties are exempt, all of the employee’s time is exempt. If the primary duties are nonexempt, he or she is a nonexempt employee. Federal regulations provide factors used to determine which are an employee’s primary job duties. They include the amount of time spent on the duties and their relative importance.
Employees owed back wages, including overtime, are entitled to seek payment from their employers. If you are unsure whether your employer owes you overtime, Mays & Kerr can help you understand your rights. One of our experienced employment attorneys will answer your questions, evaluate your situation, and advise you of your options. To schedule a free case evaluation, call 1-877-986-5529.
Who Wins in Overtime?, January 7, 2015