Most people (including employers) only know two things about “exempt” employees. First, that they are salaried instead of hourly. And second, that they don’t have to be paid overtime. However, the law is much more detailed in how employers must treat exempt employees in order for them to remain “Exempt”. Just as there are certain things you can’t do to non-exempt workers, there are also certain things that an employer simply cannot do to an exempt employee.

Unfortunately, many employers misunderstand (or purposely disobey) the laws about how to treat exempt workers. If you are classified as exempt in your workplace, there’s a good chance your employer has been overstepping their bounds. And they might even owe you back-pay at overtime rates if they have accidentally mis-classified or un-classified your exempt status.

Today, we’re here to talk about what employers can’t do to their exempt employees.

Pay You Overtime for Working Over 40 hrs/wk

The one thing everyone knows about exempt workers is that they can’t be paid overtime. The idea of the “exempt” status is that you are an independent professional who is responsible for “Getting the job done” no matter how much work that may take. This is why you can’t be considered exempt if you A) don’t make enough money ($43,680/yr in California) and B) don’t have enough personal freedom at work.

If you don’t have those things, then you should be getting overtime.

Dock Your Pay for Working Less Than 40 hrs/wk

However, one of the ‘perks’ of being exempt is that you’re also not required to work a full 40-hour week to receive your full weekly pay. Exempt means that if you get the job done, the company accepts however much time that takes you. Whether that is more than 40 hours a week or less.

If you take a half-day to run errands, stay home sick, or simply leave early every day because your work is done: Your employer cannot dock your pay. Not for an hour, not for a day.

If they do dock your pay, you have just been classified as non-exempt. This is a change that is both effective immediately and retroactive. That means that your employer may now owe you for any overtime worked during any point in your previous employment.

Dock Your Pay for Anything

In fact, employers can’t dock your pay for anything at all. An exempt employee is not just salaried, but has a protected weekly salary. This means that the amount you make each week is guaranteed, provided you work during that week at all. The point is to provide income-stability, no question about how much you will make each week unlike an hourly employee. But that means they really can’t reduce your weekly salary for any reason.

Any week in which you work a single day, you must be paid your full contractual weekly salary. And in special occasions where days are counted individually (like the week you quit), you must be paid for the full day of work just for showing up and doing a single work task.

This means they cannot use pay reduction as a punishment no matter what you did or how they punish non-exempt employees.

Not Pay You for Time Worked

It’s not uncommon for employers to try things like “We’re closed on Christmas, so you won’t be paid for that day” with exempt and non-exempt employees alike. However, if you work even one day during the holiday week, you must be paid for the full week. Likewise, there are zero circumstances where your employer can ask you to work during the day and then not pay you for the whole day. Even if you take the rest of the day off. Even if they fire you that day.

Employers are, in fact, required to pay every employee, hourly or salaried, for time worked. But the privilege of an exempt position means you are paid for full days and weeks of work no matter how long you are physically in the office. So long as you worked any time during that period.

Interestingly, employers can force you to use your PTO on days where they are closed or that you take off early. But their decisions can’t impact your weekly paycheck.

Employers make mistakes and purposefully exploit worker classification all the time, but you don’t accept being mistreated or underpaid. Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we specialize in helping employees defend their rights and get paid fair wages for the work they do.

Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article where we’ll cover how employers have misused salary, work duties, and classification for exempt employees. If you think that you have been misclassified or mistreated based on your employment classification, contact us at Aiman-Smith & Marcy today. We’re ready to help.

[Continued in Part 2]

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