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Wage and Hour Law: Four Things that Suggest an Employee May Be Misclassified as Overtime Exempt

Wagner Zemming – Wage And Hour(1)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that provides wage and hour protections to workers in California and across the country. Among other things, the FLSA guarantees overtime pay (1.5x) to non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a week. Unfortunately, in some cases, employers improperly classify workers as overtime exempt.

Companies do not simply get to choose who is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules. Instead, eligibility for overtime pay depends on the actual nature and conditions of a person’s employment, not what their employer says. Here, our Southern California wage and hour attorneys highlight four things that indicate that a worker might be misclassified as an overtime exempt employee.

  1. Employee Largely Performs Manual Labor

Manual labor can be exhausting—especially if you are required to do challenging tasks day in and day out. The overtime provisions of the FLSA are designed to protect employees who perform a significant amount of physical labor. If your position largely requires physical labor and you are classified as overtime exempt, your employer may have made an error. The majority of so-called ‘blue collar’ jobs that require physically strenuous work are entitled to overtime pay under federal law.

  1. Modest Salary—Employee is Paid Less than $684 Per Week

Under federal law, employees must be paid a certain minimum weekly wage in order to be classified as overtime exempt. This is sometimes referred to as the salary threshold. As of January of 2020, the minimum salary threshold for an FLSA overtime exemption increased. The Department of Labor (DOL) now requires an employee to make at least $684 per week ($35,568 per year) for full-time work. If you work full time and you are paid less than $684 per week in wages, then you should not be classified as an overtime exempt employee. You need to be paid at a higher rate or compensated with overtime pay.

  1. Job Title is Not Consistent With Day-to-Day Duties

Executive, administrative, and professional employees can be classified as overtime exempt. That being said, a Southern California employer cannot simply call a worker an “administrator” in order to justify an exemption. As explained succinctly by federal regulators, “job titles do not determine exempt status.” The actual day-to-day duties of the position are what matters—not the title that is listed on the paper. If you are listed as overtime exempt but your job duties do not mention your job title, you may be misclassified under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

  1. A College Degree is the Basis of the Exemption

Finally, you cannot be classified as overtime exempt solely on the grounds that you hold a college degree. With more and more Americans entering the workforce with degrees, misclassification of college educated workers is a growing problem. Even if your employer requires a college degree to get your position, that is still not (by itself) sufficient to justify an overtime exemption. A college degree, or lack thereof, is not a determinative factor. An employee’s actual job duties and their rate of compensation are what matters.

Speak to Our California Wage and Hour Lawyers Today

At Wagner Zemming Christensen LLP, our Riverside employment lawyers have the skills and training to handle the full range of unpaid overtime claims. If you believe that you were improperly classified by an overtime exempt worker, we can help. For a strictly confidential consultation with an experienced wage and hour attorney, please contact our law firm today. With an office in Riverside, we represent clients throughout Southern California, including in San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, Redlands, Fontana, and Ontario.

Contract Litigation: How Do Courts in California Resolve Ambiguous Language?

As anyone who has ever glanced over a business contract knows well, the language often reads as highly technical and redundant. Though it can make contracts more complicated, there is a good reason that contracts are drafted with legalese: an agreement must be clear and precise to reduce the risk of confusion.

Ambiguous language can lead to disputes over the true meaning. This raises an important question: How are contract ambiguities resolved in California?  Here, our Riverside business litigation attorneys provide an overview of the key things you should know about ambiguities and contract interpretation in California.

Contract Interpretation in California: Ambiguities

In reviewing a disputed contract, one of the first things a California court will do is to look for a clause that speaks directly to ambiguous language. Some commercial agreements already include an agreed upon process for resolving ambiguities. If there is such a clause that aids in contract interpretation, then the court will likely use it. Beyond that, state law instructs state courts to use the following four key principles in deciphering ambiguous language:

  1. Mutual Intention: Mutual intent is required for a contract to be created in the first place. Two or more parties must have come together with a meeting of the minds and made an agreement with mutual obligations. Under California Civil Code § 1636, courts must give effect to the mutual intention of the parties at the time the contract was drafted. In trying to interpret ambiguous language, the actual intent of the parties is the core thing that courts are looking to ascertain.
  2. Meaning from Language: The language of the contract matters. Pursuant to California Civil Code § 1638, courts are instructed to derive meaning out of the text. This section of California law clearly states that as long an ambiguity can be resolved by looking to the actual language of the text, it will be. Only when there is an inherent ambiguity or contradiction on the language should outside evidence be brought in.
  3. Plan Meaning Holds, But Custom/Practice Matters: For the most part, California courts will interpret words and phrases in a manner that is most consistent with their plain and ordinary meaning in everyday life. That being said, the customs and practice of an industry will always be considered when appropriate. As an example, if a certain phrase is used in a particular manner in real estate, then that information is relevant in interpreting the meaning of agreement for the sale of commercial property.
  4. Resolved Against Drafting Party: Not all contract ambiguities can necessarily be resolved. In cases where an ambiguity remains, the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions instruct courts to interpret the contract against the drafting party—meaning the ambiguous provision should be interrupted in a manner that benefits the side that did not write the agreement.

Of course, it is important to note that every contract dispute is not resolved by a judge. Companies involved in the early stages of contract litigation may still be able to reach a settlement outside of the courtroom—potentially through a structured legal process such as arbitration or mediation. Whether a settlement is possible or advisable will always depend on the specific circumstances of the case.

Contact Our California Business Litigation Lawyers for Help

At Wagner Zemming Christensen LLP, our Riverside business law attorneys are experienced, solutions driven advocates for clients. If you have questions about contract ambiguities, we are here to help. To arrange a confidential consultation, please contact our law firm now. From our office in Riverside, we represent businesses throughout Southern California, including in Rancho Cucamonga, Pomona, Jurupa Valley, Corona, and Yorba Linda.

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