Although both federal and state law exempt professional employees from the wage and hour laws, the application of the exemption to some employees differs. The exemption under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act is for an employee (1) who is compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week, and (2) whose primary duty is the performance of work (i) requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction, or (ii) requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor. See 29 CFR section 541.300.
The California wage orders provide an exemption for an employee (1) who is licensed or certified by the State of California and is primarily engaged in the practice of one of the following recognized professions: law, medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, teaching, or accounting, or (2) who is primarily engaged in an occupation commonly recognized as a learned or artistic profession, and (3) who customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment in the performance of duties, and (4) who earns a monthly salary equivalent to no less than two (2) times the state minimum wage for full-time employment (which equates to $640 per week).
Under both standards, “learned” means work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field or science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study, as distinguished from a general academic education and from an apprenticeship, and from training in the performance of routine mental, manual, or physical processes. “Artistic” or “creative” means work that is original and creative in character in a recognized field of artistic endeavor (as opposed to work which can be produced by a person endowed with general manual or intellectual ability and training), and the result of which depends primarily on the invention, imagination, or talent of the employee.
Under this standard, a radiology technologist is not exempt, but a physician’s assistant is. The difference is the level of knowledge and extent of learning required. A television news anchor was not exempt, because he spent most of his time on the mundane activity of collating material from various news sources for presentation on the newscast, and then read from a teleprompter.Nordquist v. McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Co., 32 Cal.App.4th 555, 38 Cal. Rptr.2d 221 (1995). A news commentator may be creative enough to qualify for the exemption.
Although the federal and state standards are similar, the result is not always the same. Pharmacists and registered nurses are exempt professionals under the FLSA, but not under the California wage orders. Nurse practitioners are exempt under the California wage orders.
Some professionals are exempt even if not paid on a salary basis: