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Field Service Technicians & Engineers Are Often Misclassified as Exempt from Overtime

A field service engineer in a white hard hat inspects a power system.

If your employer is violating wage and hour laws, we can help.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), unless you qualify as an exempt employee, you should be paid overtime (time and a half) for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a single workweek. The law sets specific rules and requirements for employees to qualify as exempt, and the onus is on the employer to prove that each and every element of the exemption is satisfied if they want to treat an employee as exempt.

Unfortunately, far too many employers in Ohio and nationwide violate the law and misclassify workers as exempt, whether through ignorance or a deliberate scheme to save money. Either way, the result is the same: free labor for the employer, and money out of the employee's paycheck. One group of employees who are very frequently misclassified are field service technicians and engineers.

How the "learned professionals" exemption applies (or doesn't) to field service engineers and technicians

There are a few specific categories of workers who can be treated as exempt, including managers, outside salespeople, and "learned professionals." Field service engineers, if they qualify to be exempt at all, would fall under the learned professional category.

According to the latest Department of Labor guidelines, there are four criteria to qualify as a learned professional for the purposes of being classified as exempt:

  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $684 per week (which is the equivalent of $35,578 per year);
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;
  • The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
  • The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

According to the Department of Labor, the final criterion there means that most technologists and technicians, including field service technicians, do not qualify as learned professionals. Although a technician's work certainly requires some scientific knowledge, it is not the level of knowledge that requires an advanced specialized academic degree as a standard prerequisite for the job. (Note that the issue here isn't whether the employee has an advanced degree; it's whether the role typically requires an advanced degree level of knowledge.)

Some field service engineers may meet the requirements to be classified as learned professionals under the FLSA, but most do not. It depends on the nature of the job and the types of knowledge they actually use in the course of their employment.

What to do if you suspect you are misclassified as exempt

Being misclassified as exempt is a serious matter. While your employer may claim your "exempt" status is a sign of increased responsibility and seniority in the company, in reality, it's a way for them to get more work out of you without paying fairly for your time. Misclassified employees have recourse under the wage and hour laws, but the law isn't self-enforcing. You need to document and report the issues in order to get compensated for your time.

If you regularly work overtime without overtime pay, there are two steps you need to take. First, document everything. Make sure you have documentation of the nature of your job, the hours you have worked, and the amount you have been paid in order to justify a potential claim. Second, contact our experienced wage and hour attorneys at Nilges Draher LLC for a free, confidential case evaluation. You have rights, and the right wage and hour lawyer can fight for them. We can help.

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