Exempt Positions

“Some of my employees feel they should be exempt but I’m not sure they qualify.”

Your HR Survival Tip

Employees often feel being exempt (salaried) is a sign they are in an important position. And, as far as it goes, exempt positions are important and have a higher level of responsibility. However, only the employer can designate a position as exempt and only after ensuring the salary level and the duties of the job meet federal and state requirements. Legally, the employee has nothing to say about it… no matter what they want.

The trickiest part of determining if a position is qualified to be exempt is the duties test because it can be very subjective. The tipping point is when you look at how their time is spent… at least 50% must be spent making decisions rather than doing the work. Also, look at the duties and responsibilities rather than routine tasks. Here are a few examples where we have seen companies make mistakes:

  • Administrative Assistant – Typically this will be a non-exempt (hourly) position. The exempt level must spend less than 50% of the time doing office/clerical work. Instead, they are part of a large organization, and their time is spent on duties involving managing the owner or executive’s schedule, acting for them when dealing with third parties, researching and handling special projects, arranging Board or shareholder meetings, etc. Much less time is spent on clerical tasks.
  • Project Coordinator — Typically this will be a non-exempt position because most of their day is spent coordinating with others, chasing project deadlines, and other administrative work. They aren’t developing or analyzing the projects themselves.
  • Supervisor — Often a non-exempt position because they don’t typically have the level of responsibility of a manager. They are usually spending at least 50% of their time doing the same work as those they supervise.

As minimum wages increase, so do the minimum salaries because they are calculated based on state minimum wage. If you are trying to justify a $67,000 minimum salary, it’s very likely the position should actually be non-exempt. A true exempt-level position often pays at least 20% more. Stop trying to squeeze employees into exempt positions because you will regret it down the road.

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