Originally created 08/24/04

Hourly pay is free of change



New federal overtime laws should have little effect on many of Augusta's businesses.

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which were put into place Monday, do little to change the employment status of much of the area's work force.

That's because many area employees, such as nurses and factory workers, are paid on an hourly basis, which means they are guaranteed overtime pay regardless of their position. The new law hasn't changed that.

"There's not a lot of impact," said Frankie Wright, the human resources director for Georgia Bank & Trust Co. "Most of the regulations haven't changed."

Ms. Wright's evaluation of the new law was characteristic of the employers contacted Monday. Many either had employees whose status was not affected or had adjusted employees' job descriptions to match the requirements of the law.

"I don't see that it will have any impact on us at all," said Connie Martin, the director of human resources at St. Joseph Hospital. "We've been pretty conservative in who we've hired on salary."

Jim Allen, an employment lawyer with Nece Allen in Augusta, said it is a common misconception that salaried employees don't qualify for overtime. They do, and the new law redefines which salaried employees qualify and which are exempt.

Workers who make less than $23,660, no matter what their position, are now guaranteed overtime. Workers receiving more than that may not be eligible for overtime pay depending on their job title and duties.

"This is a law that helps low-end workers and hurts high-end workers," Mr. Allen said.

Research assistants at the Medical College of Georgia will benefit.

"We had some employees whose salaries were below the threshold of $23,660, and so their salaries will be raised," said Susan Norton, the college's director of human resources.

Ms. Norton said about 75 employees will get a raise to keep them exempt.

Executives, administrators, professionals and other similar white-collar employees who make more than $100,000 and manage a department, supervise two or more people or have direct control or influence over hiring and firing are exempt from overtime pay. Those who make between $23,660 and $100,000 are exempt only if they fill all three roles.

"We don't have management that fit that," said Karen Whitman, the human resources manager at Sitel Corp. "The majority of our people are paid hourly."

Census estimates show only about one-third of Augusta's workforce is classified as white-collar, and the average household earns approximately $50,000, between the new law's thresholds.

Allen Roberson, a human resources manager at the Savannah River Site, said many of the site's employees were previously exempt from overtime pay and the new laws haven't changed that.

"Our positions look like they're pretty stable," he said.

Still, Mr. Allen said some shake-up should be expected.

"This is going to hurt smaller businesses who tend to have low-paid employees that are treated as exempt," he said.

With the attention these new overtime laws are getting in the media, Mr. Allen said he expects several disgruntled employees to question their employers about their overtime wages.

"As a practical matter, it's mainly going to affect small businesses, because it's going to generate questions and it's going to generate lawsuits," he said.

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.

Labor Laws

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act adjust who is eligible for overtime pay based on whether employees receive a salary or are paid hourly, and how much they are paid.
Hourly paid employees: All hourly paid employees are eligible for overtime pay regardless of total income.
Salary less than $23,660: Eligible for overtime pay.
Salary between $23,660 and $100,000: Executives, administrators and professionals are not eligible for overtime if they meet all components of the labor department's job description.
Salary more than $100,000: Executives, administrators and professionals are not eligible for overtime if they meet part of the labor department's job description.
Job Descriptions

Executive: A person who manages a business or department, supervises two or more people or has control over hiring or firing.
Administrator: A person who is a "staff" employee that does not make products or sell things; for example, a human resources director.
Professional: Artists, teachers in schools, high-level computer professionals, and traditional professions, such as law and medicine.

Eligibility is often determined by the creative aspect and educational needs for the position.