United States: Think You Are Exempt? New FLSA Salary Thresholds Affect California Employers, Too

Seyfarth Synopsis: Changes to the FLSA regulations increasing the minimum weekly salary for exempt employees will impact California employees who currently are being paid less than $47,476 per year. Wise employers will start planning now to make the adjustments required to ensure compliance with both state and federal exemption laws.

If you have white-collar exempt employees in California, you know that to qualify as an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee, an employee must (among other things) be paid by a salary that is at least twice the state minimum wage. With the California minimum wage currently set at $10 per hour (at least until next January, when it will increase to $10.50/hour), a little math tells us that the California salary threshold for white-collar exempt employees is $41,600/year [40 hours per week x $10.00 = $400/week x 52 weeks = $20,800; times 2 = $41,600].

If you have been catching the national news on the Department of Labor's recent amendments to the FLSA regulations, you know that the federal salary threshold for white-collar exemptions is going up dramatically—to $913 per week, or $47,476/year.

The federal changes will go into effect on December 1, 2016. There are a number of options for responding to the new regulations, ranging from simply raising salaries to the federally-required level to re-classifying positions to non-exempt. You can access tons of relevant, helpful and interesting information here at Seyfarth's FLSA Exemption Resource Center.

Until now, we in the Golden State did not often worry about the federal salary minimum for exemptions, because it was so much lower than what was required here. Now, however, we must take note—and make adjustments—for any employees who are currently classified as exempt and who are not being paid at least the equivalent of $47,476 per year.

What types of employees are we talking about? Employees who are likely to fall into this category in California include the ranks of a company's exempt staff currently being compensated at or close to the current state minimum allowable salary; in other words, those being paid at or above $41,600, but less than $47,476. Examples might include some managers, executive assistants, human resources professionals, business development or marketing professionals, teachers, accountants, engineers, and creative professionals.

Even though the FLSA amendments will not go into effect until December 1, one question has already surfaced as a Cal-Peculiarity: what to do with part-time exempt employees? It was, and remains, permissible (if perhaps uncommon) to have exempt employees who work part-time schedules, as long as they are paid at least the salary minimum (federal and CA) for each week of work, as the federal regulations do not allow pro-ration of weekly salary. As of December 1, 2016, any part-time exempt employees will have to be paid at least $913 per week.

If paying the higher weekly amount to part-time exempt folks is not a good option for the employer, a solution (in theory) under federal law would be to convert the employee to salaried non-exempt, and pay the employee for any overtime incurred according to the fluctuating workweek method (a method of calculating the regular rate of pay that varies according to the number of hours worked in a particular week). Not so fast. This method is not permitted in California, and converting California part-time exempt to salaried non-exempt employees could have expensive, unintended consequences if overtime were incurred. So, that solution may not be your best bet under California law.

Employers in California, as elsewhere, still have time to consider their workforces and make and implement plans for any necessary adjustments to their current exempt positions. But, we recommend that you begin your review and planning now.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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