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Understanding when an employee is exempt or non-exempt

If you own a business in New York, you may have spent a great deal of time learning about the laws and regulations related to your industry. Possibly, you must keep up with new guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and you likely have environmental and tax laws by which you must abide.

You may have a difficult time keeping up with all the laws and regulations for your company, especially those involving your employees. Harassment and retaliation laws are often straightforward, but those regulations and protections afforded by the Fair Labor Standards Act may be confusing. It is critical that you understand the categories of your employees to avoid legal issues.

Which employees are non-exempt?

Your employees are either exempt or non-exempt. This refers to whether certain requirements in the FLSA apply to them in your workplace. For non-exempt employees, you must carefully abide by the FLSA requirements, including the following:

  • Non-exempt employees must receive a wage that is at least the federal minimum standard.
  • Non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours a week must receive overtime pay after that.
  • Overtime pay for a non-exempt employee is at least one-and-a-half times the hourly rate he or she receives.

Perhaps one of the most common violations of FLSA is when an employer makes a non-exempt worker complete tasks before clocking in or after clocking out. This is one way to minimize a worker's hours and avoid paying overtime. However, you may not require non-exempt employees to do any work-related activities without offering compensation equal to their hourly rates. Even if they volunteer to work off the clock, it is a violation of FLSA, and you could face legal issues by allowing it.

Exempt from FLSA?

Your employees are exempt if you pay them a salary instead of an hourly wage. Exempt employees are not protected by the FLSA regulations regarding wages and overtime. If you pay your employees a salary, you likely expect them to complete their work in whatever amount of time it takes. While your exempt employees do not qualify for overtime pay, you probably pay them a higher than minimum wage and include other benefits, such as bonuses, as incentives.

If you face accusations of violating FLSA, you would do well to seek the counsel of an employment law attorney. Not only will you have solid representation and advocacy, you will have an advisor who can help you ensure your workplace practices comply with federal and state employment laws.

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