I’ve ranted before about how hard it is for employers to comply with California employment laws. For example, there was this post about the unfairness of punishing employers for violating laws when the courts don’t even agree on what the law requires. A similar problem arises when the meaning of the law is relatively clear, but it’s unreasonably difficult to find out what the law requires.
Here’s an example. California has detailed requirements for when a computer software professional can be considered exempt from state overtime standards. Not surprisingly, some of the requirements (in Labor Code sec. 515.5) contain vague language, like requiring that the employee be “highly skilled” and “proficient” in “theoretical and practical application of highly specialized information to computer systems analysis, programming, and software engineering.” You probably need a computer science degree to even understand how to apply those terms to a specific position. But there’s also a requirement that the person be paid at or above a certain level. How hard can that be? Can’t you just look up the minimum pay?
Here’s the problem: the pay rate started out at $36 per hour when the statute took effect on January 1, 2006. But it adjusted annually after that. The statute states:
The Division of Labor Statistics and Research shall adjust this pay rate on October 1 of each year to be effective on January 1 of the following year by an amount equal to the percentage increase in the California Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.
Even if you could find the “California Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers” for each year since 2006, you couldn’t accurately calculate the figure. That’s because the Division of Labor Statistics and Research (DLSR) decides not to make any adjustments in certain years (i.e. over periods when the rate goes down).
So how do employers find out what the minimum pay rate is to satisfy the exemption? They just need to know that the DLSR is part of the Industrial Welfare Commission and on the IWC’s website there’s a page for Statistics and Research. If you go to that page you’ll find a link to Exemption for Computer Professionals. Clicking on that link takes you to a page and a half memo (pdf). Read to the end of the memo and there’s the answer – as of January 1, 2011, computer professionals must earn at least $37.94 to qualify for the exemption.
Is it just me or does that seem like a lot to ask an employer to figure out?
UPDATE (October 15, 2015): Much of this information is dated. You can find an update here.