FSLA Final Exemptions Fact Sheet
On May 18, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the release of a final rule updating regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which exempt executive, administrative, and professional employees from its minimum wage and overtime requirements (often referred to as the white collar exemptions). The rule was published in the May 23, 2016 Federal Register and goes into effect on December 1, 2016. While the FLSA provides minimum wage and overtime pay protections for most employees, some workers, including bona fide executive, administrative, and professional employees, are exempt from those protections. For more than a half century, the DOL regulations have generally required each of the following three tests to be met for this exemption to apply: 1. The employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction
because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed (salary basis test); 2. The amount of salary paid must meet a minimum specified amount (salary level test); and 3. The employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties as
defined by the regulations (duties test).
The DOL last updated these regulations in 2004, when it set the weekly salary level at $455 ($23,660 annually) and made other changes to the regulations, including collapsing the short and long duties tests into a single standard duties test and introducing a new exemption for highly compensated employees.
Highlights of the Final Rule
The final rule focuses primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for executive, administrative, and professional employees to be exempt. Specifically, the final rule: 1. Sets the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried
workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South, which is $913 per
week or $47,476 annually for a full-year worker; 2. Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees
(HCEs) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th
percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, which is $134,004; and 3. Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation
levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles. Additionally, the final rule amends the salary basis test to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level. Note that the final rule makes no changes to the duties tests.
Standard Salary Level
As stated above, the final rule sets the standard salary level (threshold) at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South ($913 per week, equivalent to $47,476 per year for a full-year worker). The final rule also updates the special salary level for employees in American Samoa (to $767 per week) and the special “base rate” for employees in the motion picture industry (to $1,397 per week).
The salary level test does not apply to outside sales employees, teachers, and employees practicing law or medicine. Academic administrative employees may qualify for exemption either by satisfying the standard salary level test or, alternatively, being paid on a salary basis at a rate at least equal to the entrance salary for teachers in the educational establishment at which the employee is employed.
HCE Total Annual Compensation Requirement
The final rule sets the HCE total annual compensation level equal to the 90th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004 annually). To be exempt as an HCE, an employee must also receive at least the new standard salary amount of $913 per week on a salary or fee basis and pass a minimal duties test. If an employee’s total compensation in a given annual period fails to meet the $134,004 threshold, an employer may make a “catch-up” payment within one month of the end of the annual period. Any such catch-up payment counts only toward the prior year’s total annual compensation. If such a catch-up payment is not made within the timeframe allotted, the exemption is lost for the prior quarter and the overtime premium must be paid.
To prevent the salary levels from becoming outdated, they will be updated automatically every three years. The DOL will publish a notice with the new updated thresholds in the Federal Register at least 150 days before those updated amounts take effect. The first update will take effect on January 1, 2020; future automatic updates will take effect on January 1 of 2023, 2026, etc.