Auto dealerships are not required to provide overtime pay to their service advisor employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Supreme Court ruled Monday. In Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, the Court held that service advisors at car dealerships are salesmen primarily engaged in servicing automobiles, and therefore exempt from the FLSA’s overtime-pay requirements. Perhaps more importantly, the Court resoundingly rejected the wide-held view that FLSA exemptions should be narrowly construed against employers.
The FLSA requires overtime pay for covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a week. However, the law exempts certain categories of employees from the overtime requirement, including any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles. Service advisors – those employees at car dealerships who consult with customers about their servicing needs and sell them servicing solutions – were generally regarded as exempt until 2011, when the Department of Labor issued a regulation that interpreted “salesman” to exclude service providers.
After having avoided the issue numerous times in the past, the Supreme Court on Monday finally tackled the question of whether service advisors meet the statutory definition of salesmen primarily engaged in servicing automobiles. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a 5-to-4 majority, held that “a service advisor is obviously a ‘salesman,’” and, although service advisors do not physically repair automobiles, they are “integral to the servicing process,” and thus meet the overtime exemption.
While Monday’s decision should be well received by employers in the automobile sales industry, employers across all industries should appreciate the Supreme Court’s adoption of a broadened-view of FLSA exemptions. In its decision, the Court expressly rejected the position taken by many courts that the FLSA’s exemptions should be narrowly construed, and instead stated the exemptions should not be given anything other than a “fair interpretation.” The Navarro decision may thus mark the beginning of court decisions granting FLSA exemptions for broader categories of employees – which would be welcome relief to employers struggling with the “gray areas” associated with FLSA’s many overtime exemptions. While this decision is good news for employers, companies must nevertheless ensure that they comply with, not only the FLSA, but also any state or local laws that provide greater protection to employees.