Applicability of various FLSA white collar exemptions to workers in the information technology sector continues to be a detailed and difficult analysis, in part due to the Department of Labor’s rules regarding the “computer professional” exemption, which have failed to keep up with the rapidly evolving workforce in the technology sector of the economy. The computer professional exemption requires work relating to “systems analysis” or “computer programming.” However, employees in information technology may not perform either of those tasks, yet still perform vital and technically sophisticated work for their employers. Thus, many employers avail themselves of the administrative exemption, asserting that the work performed is office or non-manual work relating to general business operations which requires discretion and independent judgment. In a new decision, the Ninth Circuit analyzed the applicability of the California state law analog to this exemption (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11040(1)(A)(2)) to three IT workers, confirmed its applicability to two, and reversed a lower Court’s finding of applicability as to a third. Heffelfinger v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 11508 (9th Cir. June 7, 2012).
The first plaintiff worked “installing, maintaining, and managing a personnel records management database for the Department of Defense,” while the second also “serviced the DOD by maintaining and managing [its] personnel records management database.” As the Ninth Circuit viewed it, the work of these two plaintiffs was properly characterized as administratively exempt, because it was both “qualitatively” and “quantitatively” administrative (meaning it was both related to general business operations, and of sufficient importance to those operations), and because they exercised discretion and independent judgment in carrying it out. Id. at * 3-7.
Because the third worker’s “duties primarily consisted of computer programming of business applications,” the Circuit court ruled that the lower court had improperly found him to be exempt under the administrative exemption, because a question of fact existed as to whether such work was “qualitatively” administrative. Id. at * 7-8.
Work in the Information Technology sector can implicate the gamut of white collar exemptions to overtime, while often still confounding employers, counsel and the Department as to which category or categories such work most properly fits into, taking into account also the DOL’s combination exemption regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 541.708. As always, once an FLSA classification decision has been made, state law considerations (such as those at issue in Heffelfinger) must be addressed.