The Fair Labor Standards Act's (FLSA) exemption for "learned" individuals -- it's a grey line sometimes. But other times, it's really, really not.
FLSA puts us lawyerly folk into the "exempt" category due to our advanced degrees. The same goes for engineers, doctors, and other individuals putting their graduate degrees to work. But what about paralegals -- they're almost lawyers. True, but no matter how valuable your paralegal is, Labor Department regulations clearly state that paralegals and legal assistants are not exempt from overtime rules, except in a few rare cases.
Pasricha & Patel handles FLSA cases. They're also now defending themselves in a FLSA case, against current and former paralegals who were allegedly not paid overtime when they worked at the firm, reports the ABA Journal.
Baseline Rule: Paralegals Are Not Exempt
Here's what CFR § 541.301 (the FLSA exemption for "Learned Professionals") has to say about paralegals:
Paralegals and legal assistants generally do not qualify as exempt learned professionals because an advanced specialized academic degree is not a standard prerequisite for entry into the field. Although many paralegals possess general four-year advanced degrees, most specialized paralegal programs are two-year associate degree programs from a community college or equivalent institution.
Pretty clear, isn't it? Take note if your small firm has paralegals, legal assistants, or any staff that isn't actively using their advanced degree: overtime is mandatory.
Exception: Paralegals Using Other Advanced Degrees in Practice
Of course, like any good law or regulation, there is an exception:
However, the learned professional exemption is available for paralegals who possess advanced specialized degrees in other professional fields and apply advanced knowledge in that field in the performance of their duties. For example, if a law firm hires an engineer as a paralegal to provide expert advice on product liability cases or to assist on patent matters, that engineer would qualify for exemption.
Obviously, an engineer-paralegal is a rare bird. Maybe, a disbarred lawyer-turned-paralegal or J.D.-paralegal might fall into the exempt category as well. Otherwise, the baseline rule applies.
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