Written by Galen T. Shimoda, Justin P. Rodriguez, and Cassandra D. Shaft
In the world of modern technology, it is hard to imagine a job where an employee does not deal with computers on a daily basis. In fact, there are some jobs where there is a very high level of sophistication in what employees are tasked with completing through the use of computers, like writing computer programs and codes. So, it is not surprising that California overtime laws have unique exemptions to address the "Computer Professional" as opposed to the employee performing basic, what we refer to as "HelpDesk" or "Desktop IT", troubleshooting functions. However, the idea of what constitutes a "Computer Professional" is often misapplied and, as a result, a lot of California employees are not being paid all the wages owed to them.
The misapplication no doubt arises from the generational and competency gaps that still exist when it comes to technology. While some individuals in upper management may be astounded that an employee knows how to set-up a printer or clear a paper jam in the office copy machine, that does not mean the employee performing those tasks have a sufficient level of skill to be considered exempt. HelpDesk and Desktop IT support employees are simply not exempt from overtime protection. They generally spend more than fifty percent (50%) of their time performing tasks such as installing and upgrading hardware and software, configuring desktop computers, and testing and troubleshooting equipment such as computers, phone systems, faxes, and printers. In contrast, the "Computer Professional" is concerned with tasks directly related to the planning, scheduling, and coordination of activities required to develop systems for processing data to obtain solutions to complex business, scientific, or engineering problems of his employer or his employer's customers, e.g. writing computer codes or developing computer software. The "Computer Professional's" work must be primarily intellectual or creative, meaning that it must be original work rather than repetitive actions, simply maintaining an existing computer system, or using automated programs to complete their tasks.
Another large dividing line between the true "Computer Professional" and the HelpDesk or Desktop IT support employee is the amount they must be paid. The "Computer Professional" must earn at least $40.38 per hour or an annual salary of at least $84,130.53 for full time employment. While an employer may still attempt to argue that a HelpDesk or Desktop IT support employee should be exempt where they are paid more than $16.00 an hour, but less than $40.38 per hour, they will ultimately fail because HelpDesk or Desktop IT support employees' duties are just not of the level necessary for California courts consider them as exempt from an entitlement to overtime wages.
There are a lot of jobs and positions that involve certain aspects of computer support or technical help that do not qualify for the exemption. But, job titles are not determinative. The focus will ultimately be on an employee's duties to determine whether they are properly exempt or not.
If you are working in the IT field and believe you have been misclassified as exempt from receiving overtime wages, please contact our office to have your claims evaluated.