Many managers assume that salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay, but this is not necessarily true. According to U.S. labor laws, many support techs may be due for overtime compensation, regardless of what employers may want to believe. Are you affected?


A lot of IT managers may be in for a shock. In his article for this month’s Redmond Magazine, Kent Blake blows apart the assumption that paying support employees a salary exempts them from being eligible for overtime wages.

“The greatest myth in labor and employment law is that if you pay someone a salary, you don’t have to pay them overtime. Many managers believe this, but it’s completely wrong.” – Employment Attorney Shawn Lillie, quoted in Redmond Magazine

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act establishes clear rules for determining whether a particular position is exempt from overtime pay. Blake points out in his piece that many employers violate the letter of labor law. Managers assume that techs are exempt from receiving overtime, either because their employees are paid salaries or their positions are covered by the government’s Computer Employee Exemption.

The Computer Employee Exemption sounds like a pretty broad exemption that might affect most support pros, but that is not the case. Assuming that the Computer Employee Exemption can provide blanket coverage is a mistake. The exemption covers positions with job duties similar to that of Software Engineers, Systems Analysts, and Software Developers. The Department of Labor’s definition of that specific exemption is a narrow one, and the Department’s policy is to assume that employees are eligible for overtime unless their specific job duties meet exemption criteria.

How does this affect help desk techs? Most computer support professionals are legally entitled to overtime pay from their employers. This is true regardless of whether or not they are paid an hourly wage or a salary and regardless of their specific job title. For the Department of Labor, an employee’s specific job duties are the determining factor in establishing overtime eligibility. Bottom line: if you are a tech doing help desk support, you are probably entitled to time-and-a-half wages for the overtime hours you work. Here’s some advice for getting the pay you are due, without making enemies in the process:

Talk to your manager and human resources department. Before phoning the Feds, talk to your employer. There’s probably not a conspiracy to shortchange you; they might just be ignorant of the proper interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Keep detailed records of your overtime. If your company does not have a detailed time-tracking system, you can provide your estimate of hours worked to the Labor Department during an investigation.
Stick to your guns. Even if your management team tells you that your job title or salary makes you exempt from overtime, you are within your rights to contact the Department of Labor for an evaluation, and you cannot legally be disciplined for such an action.

I recommend that every support pro give the original article a look; it certainly opened my eyes. Besides being the law, paying support techs for overtime hours could be good management practice. User support is a profession that can be very stressful, especially when techs are overworked and underpaid. Compensating for overtime hours worked will help keep employees in good spirits and provide an incentive for managers to make sure their help desk is adequately staffed. In the end, everybody wins.

Does your company pay overtime wages to support techs? How much in back pay do you figure you are owed? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.