On Wednesday, August 24, 2016, Mecklenburg County notified approximately 900 county employees that their pay would be changed from salary to hourly and that they will be eligible for overtime pay. This switch will be effective on November 23, 2016 and was in response to changes the U.S. Department of Labor has made to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Under the new law, employees who earn a salary of less than $47,476 per year will now be eligible for overtime pay. Previously, the salary cap was set at only $23,660 per year. It is estimated that more than 4 million U.S. workers will soon become eligible for overtime.
Mecklenburg county employs 5,408 employees, including temporary workers. Of those, 2,154 are currently paid salaries, but this number will be reduced by more than 40% as a result of the change. As an employment law attorney, I regularly encounter employees who are paid salaries, but are misclassified as “exempt” from overtime. It is a myth that merely paying a salary permits employers to avoid paying overtime. To be exempt from overtime, the FLSA requires that employees meet both a salary test and a job duties test. If you do not meet the job duties test, you are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours each workweek. This is true, even if you are paid a salary.
The big question for the Mecklenburg County employees who are being converted from salary to hourly is whether they were classified correctly for purposes of overtime in the first place. I would not be surprised if some of the 900 Mecklenburg County employees impacted by this change were misclassified as exempt salaried employees and should have always been paid overtime. If this is true, the FLSA would permit these employees to recover at least 2 years of unpaid overtime, plus double damages, from the date a claim is filed.
If you are a Mecklenburg County employee impacted by the change from salary to hourly, and you have worked overtime during the past 2 years, you might want to contact a North Carolina employment lawyer who is experienced with wage and hour claims and determine whether you were previously misclassified as exempt from overtime pay.