Classifying an employee as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) comes with a trade-off.  Most employers know that exempt employees are not entitled to overtime.  But, in exchange for that benefit, the FLSA limits employers’ ability to reduce the exempt employee’s salary, even when they are not coming to work.  However, exempt employees are not immune from needing time off of work to recover from a medical condition, to settle an aging parent into an assisting living arrangement or to handle a long-term behavioral issue with a child. If an employee seeks some time off each week to take care of such matters, you may agree to allow the employee to work a reduced work schedule for a period of time. But when payday rolls around, must you pay the employee his or her full weekly salary or can you deduct pay to reflect the reduced work schedule? Missing this answer can have significant ramifications for the employee’s exempt status.

FLSA Salary Basis

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, exempt employees’ pay must meet the salary basis test, which means that the employee must receive a predetermined amount of salary for each workweek, without reductions because of variations in the quality or quantity of work during the week. Thus, deductions from salary for reduced working hours is generally not permitted under the salary basis test. Deducting pay for the missed time could result in the loss of the employee’s exempt status. However, two exceptions may apply to your employee.

FMLA Leave Can Result in Pay Deduction

If the employee’s reduced schedule constitutes unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the FLSA regulations permit employers to “pay a proportionate part of the full salary for time actually worked” without risk to the exempt status. This means that if your employee is missing work for an FMLA-qualifying reason, you may deduct pay from their weekly salary to reflect the unpaid FMLA leave time.

PTO, Sick Leave or Other Paid Leaves

If the employee has accrued PTO, sick leave or another type of company-provided paid leave, you can require that the employee use such paid leave to cover the partial day absences, as long as the employee continues to receive the full amount of their weekly salary. And, once the employee uses up all of their accrued paid leave, you can make salary deductions for full-day, but not partial-day, absences.

Saved Wages Vs. Loss of Exempt Status

Deductions from an exempt employee’s salary should be made only after careful consideration of the potential consequences. After all, the salary you save now for missed time may seem trivial if you lose the exempt status of this and all similarly-situated employees and owe them overtime for the past two years.