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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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