On January 10, a federal judge in Florida certified a nationwide collective action against Lowe’s Home Centers. If the story stopped there, it would be unremarkable since virtually every large company has been hit with wage and hour suits in recent years.
What is interesting about this case is that it was filed by HR Managers claiming they were improperly classified as exempt from overtime. The plaintiff was an HR Manager at an individual store and claimed that she did not supervise anyone and did not exercise the necessary level of independent discretion and judgment to meet the administrative exemption. The plaintiff claimed that all meaningful employment decisions, like terminations, were made by higher ups within the HR department, and that she primarily performed clerical duties. A copy of the judge’s decision can be found here.
The takeaway from this decision is that not even HR departments are immune from overtime lawsuits. Many exempt HR personnel do not qualify for the executive exemption because they do not directly supervise two or more full-time employees. The administrative exemption, which likely would apply to HR staff, can pose challenges in ligation because it revolves around the level of discretion enjoyed by the employee (which can be subjective). Prudent employers should make sure to keep records of exempt HR employees being involved in hiring, firing or discipline of employees. Keep in mind that the law does not require the exempt employee to have final authority to make decisions, only that he or she be allowed to make recommendations which are given substantial weight. Keeping such records will make it very difficult for the exempt employee to sue for mis-classification and overtime.