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PROPOSED LEGISLATION MAY EXPAND THE SCOPE OF THE COMPUTER EMPLOYEE EXEMPTION

By Douglas Weiner and Meg Thering

On October 20, 2011, the Computer Professionals Update Act (“the CPU Act”) – one of the first potential pieces of good news for employers this year – was introduced in the U.S. Senate.  If passed, the CPU act would expand the computer employee exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  S. 1747.

Unlike much of the other legislation affecting employers that has been proposed or passed this year, the CPU Act would make business easier for employers and decrease the risk of employee misclassification lawsuits.  If the proposed legislation passes, employers would be able to classify more employees as exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA.  This would be a welcome change from the persistent drum beat of enhanced enforcement initiatives announced by government agencies and upticks in class and collective actions this year.

The computer employee exemption currently is limited to employees who earn at least $27.63 an hour and work as computer systems analysts, computer programmers, software engineers, or other similar positions.  Employees are exempt if their primary duties consist of: (1) the application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications; (2) the design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to user or system design specifications; (3) the design, documentation, testing, creation or modification of computer programs related to machine operating systems; or (4) a combination of such duties.  29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17); 541 C.F.R. § 400; U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #17E. In contrast, employees whose work consists of repairing or manufacturing computer equipment are not exempt. 541 C.F.R. § 401; U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #17E.

The CPU Act would broaden the exemption to include any employee who works in a “computer or information technology occupation (including but not limited to, work related to computers, information systems, components, networks, software, hardware, databases, security, internet, intranet, or websites) as an analyst, programmer, engineer, designer, developer, administrator, or other similarly skilled worker.”  The primary duties for the exemption to apply would also be broader under the CPU Act, which would consider employees exempt if their primary duties are: (1) “the application of systems, network or database analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine or modify hardware, software, network, database, or system functional specifications;” or (2) “the design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing, securing, configuration, integration, debugging, modification of computer or information technology, or enabling continuity of systems and applications.”  Employees who perform a combination of these duties would still be considered exempt.  Also, employees who are “directing the work of individuals performing duties described [above], including training such individuals or leading teams performing such duties” would be considered exempt.  S. 1747.