Under federal and New York State laws, most private employers are required to give their employees overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours during a seven-day workweek. There are a number of employees who are considered “exempt,” i.e. not entitled to overtime pay. The three principal categories of exempt workers are “executive,” “administrative,” and “professional” employees.
Does an Executive Assistant Have Discretion Over “Matters of Significance”?
Administrative employees, for instance, include anyone who meets all of the following criteria:
- The employee receives a salary (rather than hourly wages) of at least $455 per week;
- The employee's primary duty involves “office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer”; and
- The employee's duties involve the “exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.”
By these standards, a secretary who earns minimum wage and mostly handles filing would not be exempt from receiving overtime pay. But what about an “executive assistant” for a large employer? A federal judge in Manhattan recently considered such a case.
The plaintiff here worked as an executive assistant for a large fashion design house in New York City. She started as executive assistant to a vice president in the company's human resources department, and eventually became executive assistant to the “second most senior executive in the Design Department,” according to court records. The plaintiff ultimately quit because she said she no longer wanted to work for the Design Department executive. She subsequently sued for unpaid overtime and disability discrimination.
The judge presiding over the case allowed the discrimination claim to proceed to trial but granted summary judgment to the company on the overtime issue. The judge agreed with the company that the plaintiff was an exempt “administrative” employee. The judge noted that the plaintiff was not simply a secretary. She supervised and had responsibility for “selecting and interviewing applicants” for other administrative and executive assistants within her department. Indeed, the plaintiff's own resume noted that she “managed” at least two administrative assistants. In short, her work “required the exercise of discretion and judgment regarding matters of significance,” as specified in the overtime exemption rules.
Have You Been Illegally Denied Overtime Pay?
Overtime exemptions are only meant to apply to “white collar” employees. They should never be used against “blue collar” workers or manual laborers. Even highly paid manual laborers are considered non-exempt. In other words, if a carpenter or plumber earns more than $455 per week which is not uncommon in New York, he or she is still entitled to overtime pay.
It is also important for an exempt employee to meet all of the qualifications for a particular category. An employer cannot avoid paying overtime to a non-exempt worker simply by giving them a job title that sounds “managerial.” If you believe your employer is violating its overtime obligations, you should speak with an experienced New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island to schedule a consultation today.