On April 1, 2010, the Department of Labor (DOL) launched its “We Can Help” public awareness campaigned aimed at educating workers about their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The DOL set up a dedicated website for the “We Can Help” campaign (http://www.dol.gov/wecanhelp/) which provides guidance to employees who wish to file a complaint against their employers for FLSA violations.

On April 26, 2010, the DOL announced a new, enhanced, regulatory and enforcement strategy called “Plan/Prevent/Protect” (http://www.dol.gov/regulations/2010RegNarrative.htm). This new strategy is designed to promote a “safe, secure, and equitable” workplace for all employees and leverages DOL resources across the spectrum of DOL worker protection agencies, including the Wage and Hour Division, and will focus on employer compliance with the laws enforced by the DOL.

Given the spotlight placed on employee education and employer compliance by these DOL initiatives, companies are likely to see an increase in DOL and state agency enforcement proceedings and an increase in individual civil actions and class action litigation involving wage and hour claims for the foreseeable future.

California continues to be at the forefront of the wage and hour litigation wars, and the issue of the proper classification of employees as “exempt” or “non-exempt” remains an active battleground in the state and federal courts, as well as in proceedings before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

It should come as no surprise to most human resource professionals and in-house counsel that California utilizes a different test for determining the “white collar” exemptions (executive, professional and administrative) than is utilized under the FLSA. However, employers who are unaware of or ignore the differences between California law and the FLSA regarding the “white collar” exemptions are exposing their companies to significant liability for unpaid overtime, “off the clock” work, meal/rest periods, uniform violations, improper deductions and record keeping violations under California law.

Under both the FLSA and California law, the employer has the burden of proving the one of the exemptions applies—establishing exempt status is an “affirmative defense” in wage/hour litigation. Walling v. General Industries Co., 330 U.S. 545, 67 S.Ct. 883 (1947). Job titles are immaterial to a determination of exempt status. Therefore, we recommend that employers conduct an internal “audit” of the actual job functions of the employees in question before classifying them as “exempt,” under either the FLSA or California law.

Recently, a client asked us to develop a “user friendly” comparison of the FLSA and California “white collar” exemptions. While nothing is really “user friendly” when it comes to California wage and hour law, we developed the chart below to provide some basic guidance for our client and wish to share it here.

Important Note: Where the California statutory, regulatory or case law are more employee-favorable than the FLSA (which is most cases), the California rules will apply.  

Click here to view table