Exempt-vs.-Non-Exempt-Classification-for-Workers-in-California.jpg (2149×1159)Although there are labor laws in California designed to shield workers from unfair conditions, misclassification of work status remains a widespread problem that leaves many workers unable to benefit from the state’s rules and regulations. Many workers in the state are incorrectly labeled as either an exempt or non-exempt employee, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and causing them to miss out on the protections of California labor laws. With confusion surrounding the complex topic running rampant, here is a breakdown of the benefits of exempt and non-exempt employee classification.

Wages and rate of pay:

Whether you should be classified as exempt or non-exempt mostly comes down to your hours and wages, as both California and federal labor laws give guidelines about your expected rate of pay for either scenario. In particular, managers who regularly go beyond 40 hours a week need to know their classification and rate of pay to ensure that an employer is following labor laws. For California, an exempt employee is expected to earn at least $43,680 per year, or two times the monthly salary of a full-time employee earning minimum wage, ostensibly guaranteeing an appropriate rate of compensation for employees.

On the flip side, non-exempt employees must be paid time and a half for all overtime hours due to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), which can lead to higher hourly rate of pay for the same amount of work as an exempt employee. If you are a California worker and you are being paid under the new threshold for exempt employees, you likely should be reclassified as a non-exempt employee so you can begin earning regular overtime. Otherwise, an appropriate bump in salary is required in order to maintain a legal status as an exempt employee.

Which one is better?

One of the reasons for confusion when it comes to exempt versus non-exempt status is because it can be complicated to calculate which status would be beneficial for the worker. Exempt employees often are expected to go well beyond what is considered a typical work week, opening up the possibility of a considerable decline in hourly pay, or outright exploitation in extreme cases. However, because exempt employees are guaranteed a set salary, it can make financial planning easier and does make sense for many workers. Additionally, there tends to be a greater sense of flexibility, as exempt workers aren’t as tied to the clock and often exercise more autonomy when it comes to breaks as well as start/stop times.

For a non-exempt worker, however, there is also a guarantee that you won’t see a significant decrease in hourly rate the more hours in a week that you work. On the contrary, non-exempt workers will frequently request to work more overtime hours to provide a spike in hourly compensation for the week. While an exempt worker is under pressure to finish a project or assignment in a given period of time to avoid a drop in hourly pay, a non-exempt employee knows precisely how much he or she is getting paid at all times. In fact, many exempt employees don’t even fully realize how much their hourly rate falls with extended overtime work, although there often is a general sense of elevated status for exempted/salaried employees. Whichever category you fall into, the laws are designed to protect you and ensure acceptable compensation if you put in long hours.

Who is vulnerable?

Any employee who does not have a basic understanding of California labor laws is potentially at risk of losing out on the full benefits of employment, although exempt status typically applies to managers, administrative personnel and professionals such as teachers, physicians and lawyers, among others. If you are an exempt employee living in California, your salary should be at least $43,680 for the year based on the $10.50 minimum hourly wage for the state, which will actually increase further as California moves to $11/hour in 2018. Learning about FLSA exclusions as well as the ongoing changes in the California minimum wage can give you a head start in ensuring that you are being correctly classified and compensated.

What should you do if you think you are misclassified?

Learning about the basics of California labor law relating to work status is an essential part of avoiding being misclassified, although the complexity of the process can still leave workers unprotected without further assistance. For an affected worker concerned about exempt versus non-exempt status, obtaining a free consultation from the experts of Aiman-Smith & Mercy can be an invaluable experience that can ensure that you are receiving the full protections and benefits of California state law.

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Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986