Ninth Circuit and FLSA Rules Social Workers are not Exempt “Learned Professionals” – Los Angeles Employment Attorneys Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

by Norman B. Blumenthal on November 13, 2012

The Ninth Circuit has held that social workers are not “learned professionals” and therefore are covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS) provides social services to the citizens of Washington. Because individuals hired as a social worker 2 or social worker 3 must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in social services, human services, behavioral serviced, or an allied field, the DSHS classified them as “learned professionals” exempt from FLSA overtime protection. After the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter that social caseworker positions that required only “a bachelor’s degree in social sciences” were not exempt “learned professionals,” a DSHS employee filed a claim.

The DOL concluded that the DSHS social worker 2 and social worker 3 positions were not “learned professionals” exempt from FLSA overtime protection and thus workers in these positions were entitled to overtime pay. A district court overturned the DOL opinion. The DOL appealed.

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an employee is a “learned professional” exempt from FLSA coverage if”
1. The employee must perform work requiring advanced knowledge;
2. The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
3. The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialization where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite for entrance into the profession.

Further, since the DSHS’s requirement that the social worker 2 and social worker 3 positions required more than a degree “in any field,” it did not require a “prolonged course of specialized intellectual study.” DSHS’s educational requirement could be satisfied by degrees in diverse fields. District Court ruling overturned.

If you are a California worker who has been classified or reclassified as an independent contractor, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik is an experienced California employment law firm with offices located in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The firm dedicates its practice to contingency fee employment law work for issues involving misclassification as a salaried worker exempt from overtime, failure to pay vacation wages, misclassification as an independent contractor, off-the-clock work, wrongful termination, discrimination and other California labor laws.

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