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Understanding exempt and non-exempt work status

Workers in Texas and across the country are fortunate that there are state and federal laws protecting their rights to fair treatment and wages. Unlike past generations, employees have more options for seeking recourse if they feel their employers are mistreating them or taking unfair advantage. Unfortunately, you may be among the many who know the laws exist but are not sure how they protect you.

A major aspect of federal protection involves the Fair Labor Standards Act. This wide-reaching law covers issues such as minimum wages, tips, overtime and other labor laws. Two of the more confusing terms used in the FLSA are exempt and non-exempt. It is important to know which type of employee you are so you know your rights and how to protect them.

Exempt from what?

An employee is considered exempt if the rules outlined in the FLSA do not apply. In most cases, these are employees whose pay is not based on the number of hours they work. Often, they are in management positions, executives or professionals who have a salary rather than an hourly wage. If you are exempt, you may work many more than 40 hours a week for the same amount of money.

A non-exempt employee, on the other hand, works by the hour. If you have to log in, sign in or clock in when you go to work, you are likely non-exempt. There is a critical difference because, as a non-exempt employee, you must be paid at least a minimum wage for each hour you work. It is important that you keep track of the number of hours you work for the following reasons:

  • You are eligible for overtime pay if you go over 40 hours a week.
  • Overtime pay is time and a half what you normally make an hour.
  • Employers may try to avoid paying you overtime by asking you to work off the clock.
  • Your employer may also be stricter about the way you spend your time on the job than if you were a salaried worker.
  • Exempt employees are usually not eligible for overtime.

While it may seem attractive to be eligible for overtime pay, you probably do not receive benefits, such as health insurance or a pension, as part of your employment agreement. While exempt workers do not receive overtime, they generally have higher wages to begin with. However, as a non-exempt worker, you do have more rights and laws protecting you. No matter whether you are exempt or non-exempt, you have the right to a safe and fair work environment free from discrimination, harassment and abuse.

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