Understanding exempt and non-exempt categories under the FLSA

Anyone who has worked in the United States has most likely heard the terms “exempt employee” and “non-exempt employee.” The word “exempt” refers to the mandatory overtime and minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a New Deal law that was passed in 1938.

Employees who are properly classified as exempt are not covered by either the mandatory overtime or minimum wage sections of the FLSA; non-exempt employees are entitled to both mandatory overtime and minimum wage provisions. Employers looking to save money will attempt to place as many employees as possible in positions that are exempt from the overtime and minimum wage sections of the FLSA. An improper classification will obviously help the employer and contravene the intent of the law.

The ”bona fide” requirement

The government regulations governing classification of positions as “exempt” or “non-exempt” plainly state that job titles alone can’t make an employee exempt. Thus, an employer cannot classify an employee as exempt merely by giving him a high level job title such as “manager” or “executive” or “superintendent.”

The regulations require that an employee’s job duties provide a bona fide reason for an exemption from the overtime and minimum wage provisions in the FLSA.

Other exemptions

Other types of employees are exempt from the mandatory overtime and minimum wage requirements, but these jobs to not entail the problems with classification. These jobs include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, deputy sheriffs, and other first responders. Outside salesmen are also exempt.


The Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor continually investigates reports of improper classification of exempt and non-exempt employees. Individual employees can sue their employer in federal court if they believe that they have lost income due to misclassification. If an employee succeeds in such a suit, he or she will receive any unpaid overtime, other lost wages, and court costs including attorneys’ fees.

Anyone who believes that they have been deprived of compensation under the overtime or minimum wage provisions of the FLSA may benefit from a consultation with a knowledgeable employment lawyer.