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The question of whether or not IT (help desk) support positions are or are not exempt from the federal minimum wage and overtime requirements laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a common one. In response to one employer, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter on this subject stating that based on the parameters submitted by the employer, the employer was not able to claim the administrative or computer employee exemption that would keep them from having to meet the federal requirements.

The FLSA requires employers to pay all non-exempt employees the federally mandated minimum wage for all hours worked and an overtime premium equal to at least 1.5 times the employee’s regular hourly wage for all hours in excess of 40 worked in a single week. An exception is made, however, for individuals employed in an executive, administrative or professional capacity and for certain computer employees. There are a number of tests laid out to determine whether or not a given employee meets the qualifications for these exemptions, largely based on duties and salary.

In the case presented to the DOL, the employer stated that the IT Support Specialist was primarily responsible for conducting problem analysis and research, troubleshooting and resolving complex problems with business applications, networking, and hardware. The position only required a high school diploma or GED, although an associate degree was preferred.

Administrative Employee Exemption

According to the DOL, the administrative (“white collar”) exemption only applies if the employee is compensated on a salary or fee basis of at least $455 per week and if their primary duties relate to managing the general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers. Further, the employee’s duties must also include the “exercise of discretion and independent judgment with regard to matters of significance.”

In the case of the position of IT or Help Desk Support Specialist, the DOL noted that while the position did involve a great deal of technical knowledge or skill to perform their job competently, the weight is on the nature of the employee’s work, not on the consequences of an employee’s poor performance. While failure to perform their job well might result in significant losses to the company, that does not automatically mean that their work is significant to the management or general business operations of the employer.

The DOL found that the duty of maintaining a computer system and testing to see that a particular piece of equipment or an application is working properly fails to meet the requirement of the employee needing to exercise independent judgment and discretion to qualify for the administrative employee exemption.

Computer Employee Exemption

To qualify for this exemption, an employee must be given a salary of at least $455 a week or make no less than $27.63 per hour if paid hourly. The exemption in question also only applies to employees who perform highly technical analysis of computer systems and are involved in some way with the designing or implementation of overall architecture. In short, while the IT Support Specialist position may in fact be highly technical in nature, it does not qualify for the computer employee exemption because the support specialists are not actually building, designing or upgrading the systems in any way, but rather troubleshooting and maintaining them.

Employers’ Bottom Line

Although DOL opinion letters are not binding and are based only on specific facts given, the opinion letter is still useful because it helps determine which factors the DOL is looking at to conclude whether jobs involving computer-related duties will be considered exempt. This is important for employers to know, since classifying such employees as exempt has resulted in administrative fines and litigation, including an increasing number of class action claims.

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