What is the learned professional exemption?

Available overtime hours for employees rank high on almost every employee’s “got-to-have” list, especially in times of high inflation and rising costs. Federal law, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), exempts certain types of employees from overtime wages, i.e., time and one-half the regular rate of pay. One exemption under which many professionals fall, known as the learned professional exemption, involves a three-part test that employees must satisfy.

What are the requirements under federal law?
Section 13 (a)(1) of the FLSA three parts of the test. Each requirement addresses a specific wage area and contains phrases used to assess job duties for purposes of the exemption. Learned professionals must:
 Earn a salary of more than $684 per week (or $35,568 annually)
 Perform, as their primary duty, work requiring advanced knowledge in science or learning, defined as work predominately intellectual in nature
 Acquire the advanced knowledge through a long-term course of specific intellectual instruction and require consistent good judgment and discretion

The advanced knowledge requirement excludes, predominately, employees who perform routine manual tasks or manual labor and those who do not require an education beyond high school. The law automatically exempts some professions that require a license to practice, such as law or medicine, regardless of their salary.

How does the learned professional exemption apply in California?
California Labor Code Section 515 details state-specific rules for the exemption. Substantive differences include a salary requirement at least two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment.

The law also defines “primarily” for purposes of duty engagement as more than one-half the employee’s worktime. The California Department of Industrial Relations also issues wage orders for specific positions relating to overtime exemptions.

Job duties and descriptions contribute significantly to the classification of a position as eligible for or exempt from overtime. Businesses that improperly categorize employees can cost employees financially and emotionally. Attorneys with a sturdy foundation of employment law can provide guidance.