The United States Department of Labor (DOL) is a federal agency created in 1913 under the administration of President William H. Taft, which enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) created in 1938 under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) which formed simultaneously with the enactment of the FLSA, has the primary function of administering the federal labor laws of the FLSA. Although the FLSA establishes guidelines for payment of overtime and minimum wage, there are various exemptions under which employees are considered exempt, and thus not entitled to compensation for overtime. Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale attorney who has extensive specialized experience dealing with the FLSA and its exemptions.
One of these exemptions is the “professional exemption,” which was analyzed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562, 1564 (11th Cir. 1991). In Dybach, the employee was an adult probation officer employed by the Department of Corrections of the State of Florida, who alleged that her employer violated the FLSA by not paying overtime wages. She filed a lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime wages and liquidated damages. The employer fought the lawsuit and contended it owed nothing because the employee was an exempt professional.
The DOL has recognized four distinct types of exempt professional employees: (1) “learned” professionals; (2) “artistic” or “creative” professionals; (3) “teachers”; and (4) employees engaged in the practice of law or medicine. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.301-304. It is important to note, however, that this list is not exhaustive as the DOL is constantly continuing its efforts to recognize other types of “professional employees,” such as the computer professionals exemption. For the employee to be employed in a bona fide professional capacity under the FLSA, the employee’s primary duty must be work requiring advanced knowledge in a specialized field acquired by prolonged study. This primary duty must meet three requirements pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(a)(1)—(3): (1) the employee must perform work requiring advanced knowledge; (2) the advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and (3) the advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.