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Federal FLSA and State MN FLSA Differ on Definitions of Exempt Status

October 2012

By: James B. Sherman, Esq.

Last month we pointed out a case in Minnesota State Court that found an employee in an agriculture position to be non-exempt even though he was exempt under federal law. This month, a federal district court in Minnesota supported the need for employers to satisfy both federal (FLSA) and state (MNFLSA) wage and hour laws on exemptions from overtime. This new case involved an instructor employed by a laborer's union (LIUNA) training and apprenticeship fund. The plaintiff primarily taught courses in various OSHA safety areas as well as vocational courses. In his suit for overtime wages of more than $21,000.00, the plaintiff claimed he did not meet the definition of an exempt "instructor" at an "educational establishment." Additionally, the plaintiff claimed he performed substantial non-instructional, manual duties in his job, especially in the summer months as part of his vocational classes.

In ruling against the plaintiff and in favor of the employer, the federal court ruled that FLSA supports a broader view of exempt "teacher" than those occupations connected to a state agency responsible for the state's educational system. The court noted the teacher exemption applies even to vocal or instrument instructors as well as driving school instructors. Secondly, the court noted that Minnesota law under MNFLSA places additional requirements on this exemption; namely, that the "teacher" must "exercise discretion and judgment" to meet the exemption from overtime pay.

This case again illustrates how satisfying FLSA requirements on exemptions from overtime pay, may not be enough where state law under MNFLSA has more rigorous criteria that must be met. Moreover, although this plaintiff failed to support his claim of doing substantial non-exempt functions with viable evidence, the case serves as a reminder to employers that when otherwise exempt employees perform considerable non-exempt functions over time, it can change their status to non-exempt and require payment of overtime wages.

Employers that want to be sure their classification of employees satisfy both state and federal law may contact attorney James Sherman at (952) 746-1700, or email jasherman@wesselssherman.com.