Can salaried workers earn overtime in California?

Employees who are ineligible for overtime in California are called “exempt” employees, or sometimes “salaried employees.” Salary is paid in a fixed amount for the week, every other week, or twice a month, regardless of the actual hours worked. Employees covered under overtime laws are referred to as “non-exempt” employees. Their pay varies depending on the number of hours, and they also get overtime.

When it comes to determining an employee’s exempt or non-exempt status, there are several considerations. One of these factors is whether an employee is paid a salary. An employee who is paid hourly is automatically considered a non-exempt employee. However, a salaried employee may actually be non-exempt if they are paid less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment.

A salaried employee may also be non-exempt if their job duties fall outside the California requirements for exemption—even if the employee’s salary meets the minimum amount. Most exempt employees all fall within three categories; employees whose job descriptions fall outside these categories are exempt:

  • Executive employees
  • Administrative employees
  • Professional employees

Below is a little more about each of these classifications:

Executive Employees: Workers who spend more than half their time performing any of the following may be considered an exempt executive employee:

  • Managing a business, or a major department of a business;
  • Directing the work of at least two other employees;
  • Participating in hiring and firing decisions; and
  • Using their independent discretion in deciding how to do their job.

Administrative Employees: Workers who perform office work or other non-manual work directly related to the management of a business may be exempt, provided they routinely use independent judgment when performing their job. This category is more of a grey area than the executive and professional exemption.

Professional Employees: Workers may be a professional employee if they are among the small group of “recognized professionals” or work in a “learned or artistic profession.” Examples of recognized professionals include:

  • Accountants
  • Architects
  • Doctors
  • Engineers
  • Lawyers
  • Optometrists
  • Teachers

If you suspect you were misclassified as exempt you may be owed up to four years of back overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and substantial penalties under California law. A skilled employment attorney can help you recover the maximum damages allowed under the law.

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