"The computer professionals and IT employees are worked very hard in California," says Scott Cooper, founding attorney of The Cooper Law Firm. "They often work more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Companies get away from paying overtime by classifying them as exempt and paying them a salary, but California has very specific rules about who can be exempt. Many of these employees do not fall under those exemptions. They are being worked many hours of overtime without compensation. It is an area that a lot of computer professionals do not know about but should be told about.
"Every case is different. There may be some unsophisticated employers who do not know the rules. But, there are many who do know the rules and hope to get away with it. I think that employees on average do not know about the [exemption] requirements and they assume that their employers are following the law. Without knowing about it, they have no reason to question that assumption."
Cooper says that IT workers should know that there are specific requirements about the type of work that must be done in order to be properly considered exempt from overtime pay. Determining what duties qualify can be difficult—especially given some of the varied tasks associated with computer work—so it might be a good idea to speak with a lawyer to determine whether or not a person's work qualifies for the exemption.
Another requirement for overtime exemption is the amount a person must be paid to be considered exempt. Cooper says that currently, that figure is approximately $79,000 per year or $38.00 per hour. However, for work done prior to 2008, that minimum pay for overtime exemption was much higher—over $100,000 per year or approximately $50 per hour.
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"It is important for these employees to understand that they are not properly considered exempt if they are not given duties that make them exempt," Cooper says. "I think there is a perception that people don't want to be considered hourly employees as opposed to salaried. Employers use that distinction in order to underpay them. Employees shouldn't worry so much about the title as about getting appropriate compensation for the long hours they put in."
The Cooper Law Firm specializes in wage and hour issues, including unpaid overtime, and has represented over 125,000 employees on these types of issues.