Dear Rita in HR: Should social workers be classified as exempt or nonexempt? In the process of updating our job descriptions I have looked at many from other agencies and am confused in particular about one issue: in some cases social workers are classified as exempt (exempt from overtime) and in other cases they are nonexempt. What are they? Signed, Dazed & Confused
Dear Dazed: Good news! We received some clear guidance last week with the first federal appellate decision directly addressing the overtime exempt status of social workers in Solis v. State of Washington DSHS (9th Cir. 2011) No. 10-35590. The quick answer is that some, but not all, social workers meet the professional exemption -- and surprisingly, it doesn't only depend on the job duties: it also depends on the educational prerequisites of the position.
The Solis court held that the Washington social workers were not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The responsibilities of the social workers in the Solis case look at first glance as if they would make the positions exempt. For example, they were responsible for:
- Investigating child abuse and neglect
- Developing and recommending treatment plans to courts
- Evaluating child and family progress in meeting treatment plans
- Placing children, and
- Recommending whether parental rights should be terminated.
But the court stated they were nonexempt not because of the job duties, but because . . .