North Carolina Labor Law: Exempt & Nonexempt

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Neither federal law nor North Carolina state law mandate particular shift lengths or provide limitations on the number of hours employees can work each week. However, all employees must be paid minimum wage and time and a half for any hours worked over 40 in one work week. Certain employees are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements, and North Carolina has adopted the federal regulation that defines which employees are exempt.

Rate of Pay Test

Most exempt employees are classified as executive employees, meaning that they are managers who direct the work of two or more other employees and have the ability to hire and fire employees. Even if an executive employee can't perform those actions on his own, his recommendations have some sway on other managers or are considered in choosing employees.

An employee's job title alone isn't enough to classify him as exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements, however. It isn't even enough that he is paid a salary rather than an hourly wage. Per federal regulation adopted by North Carolina, a salaried employee must make a guaranteed weekly salary of at least $455 to be considered legally exempt.

Always Nonexempt

North Carolina and federal regulation carve out certain occupations that are never exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws, no matter how much money the people in these jobs make:

  • Manual laborers, whether skilled or unskilled, can never be classified as exempt employees.

  • Police and highway patrol officers, sheriffs' deputies or detectives of any rank who detect, investigate and prevent crime.

  • Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, ambulance personnel and other first responders who rescue victims and respond to health and safety emergencies.

  • Correctional and parole or probation officers who detain or supervise criminals.

Hours and Overtime

Federal law requires employers to pay all nonexempt employees time and a half for any time worked over 40 hours in each workweek. North Carolina has no laws or regulations beyond the federal law. Employers within the state may make overtime mandatory and can terminate an employee who refuses to work the extra hours. Employers don't have to consider how the extra hours might effect their employees lives and don't have to give employees any advance notice of overtime, regardless of how many hours the employees have worked.

Enforcement and Penalties

If a North Carolina employer violates the minimum wage and overtime provisions, he may owe employees money. Employees can sue their employer in state court for those lost wages, or report the violation to the North Carolina Department of Labor. The NCDOL commissioner, along with the state attorney general, may sue on their behalf. If the employees win their lawsuit, they can recover lost wages plus interest and up to $300 in attorney's fees from their employer.