Are paralegals entitled to overtime pay?

The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, requires employers to pay their employers one a half times their regular rate for any hours worked past 40 hours per week. However, this overtime rule does not apply to every employer and employee.

First, the FLSA only covers employees and not independent contractors. Under the FLSA, employees are those workers who are economically dependent on their employers. Second, the Act only covers employers who have workers that are engaged in or affecting interstate commerce. The interstate commerce requirement is interpreted very broadly and includes most employees.

Lastly, for an employee to receive protection from the FLSA and entitle him to overtime pay he must not be an exempt employee. The FLSA exempts employees who occupy certain positions. Paralegals are among the employees most often neglected when it comes to overtime pay. Employers often classify them so that they fall under the administrative or professional exemptions; however, according to the Department of Labor, neither of these exemptions apply and paralegals must be paid overtime.

Paralegals Do Not Fall Under the Administrative Exemption

The administrative exemption applies if the employee is paid a salary or fee of at least $913 per week of $47,476 per year, the employee’s primary duty is to perform office work directly related to the employer’s management or general business operations, and the employee exercises discretion and independent judgment in performing his duty.

According to the Department of Labor, paralegals do not fall under this exemption because they do not exercise discretion and independent judgment. Instead, paralegals use their skills and knowledge in preparing assignments, typically in drafting documents to assist attorneys or other assigned tasks. Paralegals are not the ones advising clients, or planning or implementing strategies—things that do require discretion and independent judgment.

Thus, paralegals do not fall under the FLSA’s administrative exemption and must be given overtime pay.

Paralegals Do Not Fall Under the Learned Professional Exemption

The learned professional exemption applies if the employee is paid at least $913 per week or $47,476 per year, his primary duty is work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning that is customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

According to the Department of Labor, paralegals do not fall under the learned professional exemption because the job does not require advanced knowledge customarily acquired through prolonged, specialized instruction. This advanced knowledge requirement typically means that an advanced degree is a standard prerequisite for the position—i.e. a law degree, or medical degree. Further, this requirement can’t be satisfied just be general knowledge gained from a degree in any field, or knowledge only gained through experience.

For paralegals, there is no minimum education required to enter the field, and an advanced degree is typically not a prerequisite. Therefore, paralegals do not fall under the FLSA’s learned professional exemption and must be given overtime pay.