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Can blue-collar workers be exempt under the FLSA?

| Aug 7, 2019 | Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees are generally considered non-exempt (covered by the law) unless there is a specific exemption their job qualifies for.

If a worker is non-exempt, they are entitled to receive at least the minimum wage, along with overtime pay at the rate of 1-1/2 times their regular rate of pay after working 40 hours in a single workweek. Workers who are exempt are not entitled to these protections.

There are a number of specific exemptions allowed by the FLSA. The most common ones are the executive, administrative, professional and outside sales exemptions. In order to meet the requirements for these exemptions, the employee must:

  • Be paid, on a salary or fee basis, at least $455 per week
  • Primarily perform job duties that qualify for the exemption

For example, to meet the requirements for the professional exemption, the person must primarily perform work that is intellectual in character; that requires advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning that is customarily acquired through a prolonged course of specialized instruction; and that requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.

Essentially, that means that the person must have some sort of advanced degree, perform intellectual work, and have actual authority over decisions of importance.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, non-management, blue-collar employees do not qualify for the most common exemptions. This is in part because their primary duties typically involve forms of manual labor or work requiring physical skill and energy. It is also partly because their training typically involves an apprenticeship or on-the-job training rather than a prolonged course of intellectual instruction. In other words, they are non-exempt.

Therefore, as long as a blue-collar worker is involved in production, construction, maintenance or other labor (as opposed to management) and is otherwise covered by the FLSA, they are always entitled to the minimum wage and overtime premium. This is true regardless of how highly paid they may be.

So, in general, employees such as construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, craftsmen, operating engineers, iron workers, longshoremen and general laborers are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime premium as long as they work in FLSA-covered industries — and most industries are covered.

If you are a blue-collar worker and have been denied the minimum wage or overtime premium, you should contact an attorney who is familiar with the FLSA and wage and hour law.