Ninth Circuit Reviews the FLSA’s “learned professional” Exemption
In Solis v. State of Washington, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the social worker position at issue did not meet the FLSA’s “learned professional” exemption because the requirements for the position did not “plainly and unmistakably” include a specialized course of study directly related to the position. The employer would therefore be required to pay overtime compensation for all hours worked by these workers in excess of forty hours in a week.
There are a number of exemptions from the FLSA’s requirement that employers pay employees overtime for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week. At issue here was the “learned professional” exemption. To qualify for that exemption, the employer must demonstrate that, among other things, employees are required to have advanced knowledge “customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.”
In this case, a prospective employee would qualify for a social worker position with only a bachelor’s degree in a number of general fields, provided that the employee also had other specialized experience or training. There was no requirement that the employee have either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in a specified field. Therefore, the court found that the “learned professional” exemption did not apply. A copy of the decision can be found here.
If an employer has determined that a certain group of workers is exempt from the FLSA, Unions should review their job descriptions to make sure that the employer has not unlawfully exempted workers under the “learned professional” exemption. If those workers are not “plainly and unmistakably” required to have “advanced knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction”, they are probably not exempt from the FLSA.