Which Workers Are (and Aren’t) Exempt from Overtime Compensation as a Result of Their Executive Duties

In the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare asked the timeless literary question, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Those lines highlight the truth that changing a name or a title does not, by itself, change the named item’s inherent identity and characteristics. This also can be true in employment law where, just because a job title sounds like a managerial role, the reality of the work you do every day may indicate that your job actually is something very different, which can matter a great deal when it comes to overtime compensation. If you have questions about exempt status or possible unpaid overtime, you should take the time to get reliable answers by contacting a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer.

Recently, this blog looked at the administrative exemption to the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Today, we focus on another exemption that generates disputes with some frequency: the executive exemption. In many instances, these disputes involve managers at retail establishments who spend most of their workdays doing non-managerial work.

Last month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions guide federal cases in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee) considered one of these matters and ruled for the employer.

The employee worked at a travel plaza and held the title “district director of operations” but, according to his lawsuit, he spent nearly all (80-90%) of his time doing non-exempt work at the plaza’s fast-food establishments. This included running a cash register, preparing food, and restocking items.

The court said that even assuming all of this was true, the director was still an exempt employee. The court reasoned that, although the director spent only 10-20% of his time on managerial duties, that work was “of greater importance than any nonexempt work that he performed,” that the director “operated free from direct over-the-shoulder oversight on a day-to-day basis,” and that the director made vastly more money than the employer’s non-exempt workers ($75,000 annually versus $20,800-34,000 annually.) These criteria combined to overcome the time factor and made the director an exempt employee.

What the Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta Has Said

Each federal circuit court of appeals takes its own approach to deciding issues of law. If you’re a worker undertaking an unpaid overtime case in federal court here in Georgia, your lawsuit’s outcome will be guided by the precedential decisions of the 11th Circuit… and the 11th Circuit is a place where the time factor carries great weight.

In 2008, the 11th Circuit looked at an executive exemption case involving a group of store managers at a chain of dollar stores and ruled for the workers. The managers presented evidence that they spent 80-90% of their workdays doing non-exempt tasks like “stocking shelves, running the cash registers, unloading trucks, and performing janitorial duties.”

The court took close note of the managers’ time spent on managerial duties versus non-exempt duties. It referenced a U.S. Department of Labor guidance that said that, if a worker spent more than 50% of her workday doing managerial tasks, that evidence strongly favored finding the worker to be exempt. On the flip side, the dollar store managers did executive tasks only 10-20% of the time, which the court described as “a far cry from the DOL’s 50% guideline for management tasks.”

This outcome would seem to indicate that, just as performing managerial tasks 50+% of the time will strongly point toward exempt status, evidence that the worker did managerial work only 10-20% of the time (or less) may constitute powerful proof that the worker is non-exempt if the case is litigated in a federal court in Georgia.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, correctly classifying employees as exempt or non-exempt is vitally important, as misclassifications can carry very damaging implications. If you have questions about classifications and who qualifies as exempt or non-exempt, get in touch with the knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our experienced team is here to provide you with the informative information and sound advice you need. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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