Often when analyzing whether a position is exempt, we only focus on whether the job duties are sufficient for exempt status. However, in most instances, there is a second requirement: compliance with the salary basis test. A recent decision issued by Judge Larimer of the Western District of New York is a reminder to not overlook salary basis test compliance. Simply put, deductions from the salary of an exempt employee must be carefully monitored to ensure that they comply with the FLSA regulations and do not destroy the exemption.
At issue in Scholtisek v. Eldre Corp., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26664 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 22, 2010) was evidence presented at the summary judgment stage that the employer “both engaged in an actual practice of making unlawful deductions, and maintained a policy that created a significant likelihood of such deductions [from the salary of exempt employees]”, and that such a practice and policy destroyed the plaintiffs’ exempt status, entitling them to overtime under the FLSA. The Court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, based on documentary evidence and admissions from the HR professionals responsible for the company’s payroll which together demonstrated that there had been a policy of making partial day deductions from the salaries of exempt employees for missed work time, in contravention of 29 CFR § 541.602. Defendant was not entitled to the “window of correction” to remedy the error, because the window is available to correct payroll mistakes, not unlawful policies.
The Court did not rule as to the appropriate remedy for this violation, observing that “[o]n the record before me, however, the Court cannot determine as a matter of law during what periods those improper deductions did occur, the extent to which they occurred, exactly which employees or job classifications were affected by this practice, or the number of hours for which plaintiffs are entitled to overtime pay. The amount of damages therefore remains to be decided.” The Court will ultimately need to rule as to whether the exemption loss was limited to only those who were subject to an actual deduction and/or whether for the period of time for which the exemption was lost is limited only to those individual workweeks in which the deduction was taken.