Status as an Employee Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

Excerpted from the California Physician Assistant’s and Supervising Physician’s Legal Handbook, Fourth Edition © 2014.

One important issue to be aware of in connection with compensation is whether employed PAs must be paid overtime, given meal and rest breaks, and are covered by other applicable wage and hour laws, or whether they enjoy “exempt status” with respect to such laws. Under California law, PAs are not automatically exempt from these wage and hour requirements, although in most cases, they qualify for exempt status.

PAs generally are considered exempt under the so-called “professional exemption.” That exemption applies to employees who meet the definition of “professional employee.” To meet that definition, the employee must be “primarily engaged” (defined as over fifty percent of the time) in work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study, as distinguished from a general academic education and from an apprenticeship and from training in the performance of routine mental, manual or physical processes. That definition also requires that the PA must customarily and regularly exercise discretion and independent judgment in the performance of their duties. Finally, the employee must earn more than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment. As a general rule, most PAs in private practice or working for the government would meet these requirements and can therefore be treated as exempt. However, it is important to note that the State Labor Commissioner or a court will review the issue of whether an employee is exempt on a case by case basis, and there are no general or “blanket” exemptions. Therefore, it is advisable to consider on a case by case basis whether a PA qualifies for an exemption. Notably, under California law, nurses and pharmacists generally are considered non-exempt; however, the California Labor Commissioner has not made a formal determination on this issue for PAs.