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Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

(Revised July 2008) (PDF)

Fact Sheet #17D:  Exemption for Professional Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

This fact sheet provides general information on the exemption from minimum wage and overtime pay provided by Section 13(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act as defined by Regulations, 29 CFR Part 541.

The FLSA requires that most employees in the United States be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay at time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

However, Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for employees employed as bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees.  Section 13(a)(1) and Section 13(a)(17) also exempt certain computer employees.  To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week.  Job titles do not determine exempt status.  In order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations.

The specific requirements for exemption as a bona fide professional employee are summarized below.  There are two general types of exempt professional employees:  learned professionals and creative professionals.

See other fact sheets in this series for more information on the exemptions for executive, administrative, computer and outside sales employees, and for more information on the salary basis requirement.

Learned Professional Exemption

To qualify for the learned professional employee exemption, all of the following tests must be met:

  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;
  • The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
  • The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

Primary Duty

“Primary duty” means the principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs.  Determination of an employee’s primary duty must be based on all the facts in a particular case, with the major emphasis on the character of the employee’s job as a whole.

Work Requiring Advanced Knowledge

“Work requiring advanced knowledge” means work which is predominantly intellectual in character, and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.  Professional work is therefore distinguished from work involving routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work.  A professional employee generally uses the advanced knowledge to analyze, interpret or make deductions from varying facts or circumstances.  Advanced knowledge cannot be attained at the high school level.

Field of Science or Learning

Fields of science or learning include law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, various types of physical, chemical and biological sciences, pharmacy and other occupations that have a recognized professional status and are distinguishable from the mechanical arts or skilled trades where the knowledge could be of a fairly advanced type, but is not in a field of science or learning.

Customarily Acquired by a Prolonged Course of Specialized Intellectual Instruction

The learned professional exemption is restricted to professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite for entrance into the profession.  The best evidence of meeting this requirement is having the appropriate academic degree.  However, the word “customarily” means the exemption may be available to employees in such professions who have substantially the same knowledge level and perform substantially the same work as the degreed employees, but who attained the advanced knowledge through a combination of work experience and intellectual instruction.  This exemption does not apply to occupations in which most employees acquire their skill by experience rather than by advanced specialized intellectual instruction.

Creative Professional Exemption

To qualify for the creative professional employee exemption, all of the following tests must be met:

  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.

Invention, Imagination, Originality or Talent

This requirement distinguishes the creative professions from work that primarily depends on intelligence, diligence and accuracy.  Exemption as a creative professional depends on the extent of the invention, imagination, originality or talent exercised by the employee.  Whether the exemption applies, therefore, must be determined on a case-by-case basis.  The requirements are generally met by actors, musicians, composers, soloists, certain painters, writers, cartoonists, essayists, novelists, and others as set forth in the regulations.  Journalists may satisfy the duties requirements for the creative professional exemption if their primary duty is work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent.  Journalists are not exempt creative professionals if they only collect, organize and record information that is routine or already public, or if they do not contribute a unique interpretation or analysis to a news product.

Recognized Field of Artistic or Creative Endeavor

This includes such fields as, for example, music, writing, acting and the graphic arts.

Teachers

Teachers are exempt if their primary duty is teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, and if they are employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment.  Exempt teachers include, but are not limited to, regular academic teachers; kindergarten or nursery school teachers; teachers of gifted or disabled children; teachers of skilled and semi-skilled trades and occupations; teachers engaged in automobile driving instruction; aircraft flight instructors; home economics teachers; and vocal or instrument music teachers.  The salary and salary basis requirements do not apply to bona fide teachers. Having a primary duty of teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge includes, by its very nature, exercising discretion and judgment.

Practice of Law or Medicine

An employee holding a valid license or certificate permitting the practice of law or medicine is exempt if the employee is actually engaged in such a practice.  An employee who holds the requisite academic degree for the general practice of medicine is also exempt if he or she is engaged in an internship or resident program for the profession.  The salary and salary basis requirements do not apply to bona fide practitioners of law or medicine.

Highly Compensated Employees

Highly compensated employees performing office or non-manual work and paid total annual compensation of $100,000 or more (which must include at least $455 per week paid on a salary or fee basis) are exempt from the FLSA if they customarily and regularly perform at least one of the duties of an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee identified in the standard tests for exemption. 

Where to Obtain Additional Information

For additional information, visit our Wage and Hour Division Website: http://www.wagehour.dol.gov and/or call our toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

When the state laws differ from the federal FLSA, an employer must comply with the standard most protective to employees.  Links to your state labor department can be found at www.dol.gov/contacts/state_of.htm.

This publication is for general information and is not to be considered in the same light as official statements of position contained in the regulations.