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The Professional Exemption Under the FLSA

March 2, 2023 Worker Misclassification

What Is It, and Do You Qualify?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to pay employees minimum wage and overtime compensation if they work more than 40 hours per week. However, there are exceptions—types of employees that are exempt from those requirements.

Most exceptions are made based on the specifics of the employee’s pay and their job duties. One of these is the “Professional Exemption.”

Who Qualifies Under the Professional Exemption?

Under the Professional Exemption, employees must be paid a salary (not an hourly wage) that must be at least $684 per week or $35,568 per year. But that’s not the only criteria. They must also perform certain job duties that qualify them as “professional.”

There are three types of employees that fall under the professional exemption, with varying primary duties. “Primary duty” in this context generally means the main or most important duty that the employee performs in the course of their job. 

The three types of professional exemptions include:

Learned professionals. These types of employees must be in a line of work that requires advanced knowledge in a “field of science or learning,” usually acquired through a program of long and rigorous study.

The “field of science or learning” spans a broad range of professions that includes medicine and pharmacy, law, accounting and actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, the sciences, and other jobs with a recognized professional status. These are distinct from jobs involving skilled trades and the mechanical arts.

The schooling required is referred to in the regulations as “a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.” Usually, this refers to an advanced degree as a job requirement. However, some employees with equivalent knowledge gained from job experience and instruction may also qualify under this exemption.

Creative professionals. Creative professionals are workers whose primary duty involves imagination, originality, talent and innovation in a recognized artistic or creative field. This includes writing, acting, music, and the graphic and visual arts.

The statute requires “invention, imagination, originality, or talent.” This phrase is intended to differentiate creative workers from those whose jobs are more intellectual in nature, but it can be subjective when applied in practice.

While the description easily applies to certain creative professionals—such as actors, musicians, painters, novelists and others—those working in advertising, journalism, and other fields may also qualify on a case-by-case basis.

Teaching professionals. Teaching professionals have a primary duty that involves tutoring, teaching, lecturing or instructing students in an academic setting. The types of teachers include teachers in primary and secondary schools, professors at colleges and universities, and those teaching skilled and semi-skilled trades.

The exemption also includes professionals who work as teachers, but also spend a significant amount of time in extracurricular leadership roles such as coaching sports teams or leading or advising after-school clubs.

Are You Being Misclassified? If So, You Should Speak to an Attorney

These exemptions exist to provide carve-outs for employees who are generally highly compensated in various positions. However, employers sometimes misclassify employees under the professional exemption to avoid paying overtime and minimum wage.

If you believe your employer is misclassifying you, you should speak with a knowledgeable employment attorney. Your lawyer can help assess the situation, determine whether your employer is violating the law, and help you gain restitution in court. Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.