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Can an employee be part-time exempt?
  • Part-time employees can be exempt.
  • The number of hours worked and wage paid are often decided based on the needs of the position.

Employers can certainly have part-time exempt employees. The minimum required salary of $684 per week still applies and cannot be reduced for part-time employment. However, there is no requirement for an exempt employee to work 40 hours in order to qualify for the exemption, nor is there a requirement to pay the same salary to all exempt employees, regardless of how many hours are expected for the position.

The Wage and Hour Division’s opinion letter FLSA2008-1NA says the minimum salary cannot be prorated for part-time hours. However, if the employee is paid at least the minimum required salary per week, the exemption can still apply. Another opinion letter, FLSA2006-6, clarifies that “the number of hours worked by an employee who is exempt under Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA is a matter to be determined between the employer and the employee.”

So, an employee whose primary duty consists of exempt work, and who is paid at least the minimum required salary per week, could qualify for an exemption. The number of hours worked each week (whether 40, 32, 24, or even more than 40) is simply a matter to work out based on the needs of the position. It does not affect the application of the exempt status. Presumably, the salary will be appropriate for the expectations of the position.

For instance, if a 40-hour job (five days per week) pays $80,000 per year, then a part-time job (four days per week) might have a salary of $64,000 per year to reflect the lower demands. The salary would still exceed the minimum requirement for an exemption.

Employers may also reduce or prorate the salary of an exempt employee, as long as they still pay at least the minimum required salary per week. For example, suppose a full-time employee experiences a personal emergency and requests to work part-time, or 32 hours per week. Employers do not have to continue paying the full salary, but they could reduce it by an appropriate amount (such as 20 percent to account for the 20 percent reduction in expected working hours). This is perfectly acceptable, assuming the reduction is not a short-term change (only a few weeks), since that might appear to be an improper deduction (although full-day personal absences can be subject to salary deductions as well).

When employees are exempt, they only get the same salary each week, and the amount was likely established based on the expectations of the position. They might sometimes need to work longer hours, but the employer does not have to increase the salary or provide extra compensation during such weeks (just like full-time exempt employees might sometimes work longer hours without extra pay).

Essentially, the minimum salary requirement is only based on a workweek, not on a particular number of hours, and does not require a 40-hour week. Some exempt employees might be expected to work 50 or more hours (and would presumably have a higher salary), while others might be expected to work 40 or only 30 hours, and would reasonably have a lower salary. The salary compensates the employee for the position and the expectations established, and can certainly be lower for less demanding positions, as long as it stays at or above the minimum required salary per week, or the applicable requirement under state law.