Understanding The "Professional Exemption" from California Wage and Hour Laws

Written by Galen T. Shimoda, Justin P. Rodriguez, and Cassandra D. Shaft

The California "professional exemption" from the requirement to pay overtime only applies to specific fields of employment. Generally, an employee must be licensed or certified by the State of California and primarily engaged in the practice of law, medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, teaching, accounting or other similar occupation in an advanced field. Being classified as exempt can have a huge impact on the amount of wages an employee takes home as being "exempt" means an employee is not entitled to overtime and meal and rest periods. As a result, knowing whether or not you are properly classified is crucial.

The essential elements that must be met in order to qualify for the exemption 1) earn a salary equivalent to at least twice the minimum wage; 2) perform tasks which are intellectual, creative, and vary in nature (as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work); and 3) exercise discretion and independent judgment in the performance of their duties.

There are two categories under the professional exemption. The first is the "learned" professional exemption. The employee's primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is 1) predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment; 2) The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and 3) The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. There are also certain education requirements in order to qualify under this category of the exemption. In particular, the DLSE clarified that the "learned" professional exemption now requires learning only above the high school level. Employees no longer are required to have post-bachelor's degrees. However, the degree must be in the field of science or learning, and it must be required by the employee's position. Examples of professions that qualify would be attorneys that require both a Juris Doctorate Degree and passing the California Bar or a teacher who must have both a bachelor's degree and pass either the Multi-Subject Test or California Subject Examination Test.

The other category under the professional exemption is the "artistic" professional which requires that they produce work that is original and creative in character in a recognized field of artistic endeavor (as opposed to work which can be produced by a person endowed with general manual or intellectual ability and training), and the result of which depends primarily on the invention, imagination, or talent of the employee or work that is an essential part of or necessarily incident to any of the above work. Work in a "recognized field of artistic endeavor" includes such fields as music, writing, the theater, and the plastic and graphic arts. Examples of those who work in the artistic field but would not qualify are those who are told the details of what to draw or write. As such, a highly skilled artist that works as cartoonist, computer animator, and/or an industrial artist would likely be entitled to overtime and not exempt.

If you are not sure whether you are properly classified at your place of employment, please contact the Shimoda Law Corp.


The Shimoda Law Corp. legal articles should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents of these articles are intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have.

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