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.
The first criterion pertaining to the employee performing work which requires “advanced knowledge” is often assessed by examining whether the employee exercises intellectual discretion and judgment as opposed to work involving routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work. Id. § 541.301(b). The work requiring “advanced knowledge” is much more intellectual in character. In Dybach, although the employee was a probation officer and obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in the specialized field of criminal justice, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the job position itself did not require a specialized college degree, but rather a generalized degree which need not correlate to the field of law enforcement or similar specialty. Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562 (11th Cir. 1991).
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court which had concluded that the employee was an exempt professional. The appellate court held that the job description of the position could have been satisfied by a degree in “nuclear physics, or be in corrections, or be in physical education, or basket weaving.” Thus, the determinative factor is the job requirement itself and not the educational level of the employee. The appellate court concluded that since the job did not require advanced knowledge or an advanced degree, the employee was not exempt.
The existence of an FLSA overtime wage exemption is a mixed question of fact and law. The Mavrick Law Firm has substantial experience in successfully defending businesses in overtime wage and other labor and employment law cases.
Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale labor and employment lawyer who has successfully represented many clients in Florida overtime wage litigation in the Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County areas encompassed by the Third and Fourth District Courts of Appeal, as well as Hillsborough, Sarasota, and other counties encompassed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation. Peter T. Mavrick can be reached at: Website: www.mavricklaw.com; Telephone: 954-564-2246; Address: 1620 West Oakland Park Boulevard, Suite 300, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311.