New USDOL Wage Hour Administrator Issues Opinion Letter Finding Paralegals Can Be Exempt: A New Day Dawning!

Under the Trump Administration, there has been a return to the issuance of Opinion Letters which I have highly applauded.  I also applaud the rather pro-employer stance that many of these Letters have reflected.  Another example of both of these scenarios has just been announced.  The USDOL issued an Opinion Letter finding that highly paid paralegals for a “global trade organization” perform sufficient management-type work to qualify as exempt under the white-collar exemptions.  As paralegals have, for years and years, been designated as non-exempt, this letter signals a change in the agency’s attitude towards such employees..

The new Wage and Hour Administrator, Cheryl Stanton, concluded that the paralegals fit within the rubric of the so-called Highly Compensated Exemption (HCE) as they earned more than $100,000 and they “regularly” discharged duties that qualified as administrative under the FLSA regulations.

The letter cited to the “litany of the paralegals’ job duties and responsibilities — including keeping and maintaining corporate and official records, assisting the finance department with bank account matters, and budgeting — that are ‘directly related to management or general business operations.  Thus, the Administrator found that “as such, the paralegals perform at least one of the duties of an exempt administrative employee.”

The Letter also was instructive in that the Administrator concluded that an employee can fit within the HCE if they perform exempt work “more than occasionally.”  For such work to be deemed more than sporadic, it must be “performed normally and recurrently every workweek, but not if it is an isolated or one-time task.”  However, and most significantly, the work need not be the primary duty of the worker.  She also concluded (and I wholeheartedly agree with this) that an employer does not have to conduct a minute examination of employee duties because a “high level of compensation is a strong indicator of an employee’s exempt status.”

Therefore, these paralegals were exempt from overtime-exempt.  These workers were also different from the typical paralegals who are always found to be non-exempt because those other paralegals discharged “a wide variety of administrative tasks … that are clearly directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer.”

The Takeaway

These USDOL Opinion Letters do not bind courts, but they are instructive, if not very influential on the thinking of a court.  This Opinion Letter displays a common sense perspective on the issue because people who earn in excess of $100,000 are (most likely) performing important work that qualifies for an exemption.  This new view on paralegals is literally a breath of fresh air.

My compliments to Ms. Stanton!