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Classification of child care center determines overtime exemption

The Fair Labor Standards Act lists a number of professions that are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime laws. Teachers in Missouri are among those listed, so even when they routinely work more than 40 hours per week, their employers do not have to pay them more. Some child care centers call their employees teachers, points out. Are these workers exempt?

The answer is not always straightforward, but one case illustrates the particular eligibility requirements of a child care facility before it can claim the teacher exemption for its employees. Bloomberg BNA relates that the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division investigated a child care center and filed a lawsuit against the employer because its workers were not paid 1.5 times their hourly rate for the hours they worked past 40 each week. 

The federal district court that heard the case determined the child care center met the eligibility requirements of a preschool, including the following:

  • The center had an established curriculum
  • Employees were referred to as teachers
  • There were lesson plan coordinators on staff
  • The center advertised that reading and math were taught

The classification as a preschool ensured that the FLSA requirements covered the center's employees because this type of employer was specifically added to the law in an amendment. While the employer disputed that ruling, it also claimed that if it was indeed a preschool, then its employees were teachers, and therefore exempt from overtime. The FSLA's teacher exemption is 29 U.S.C. Section 213(a)(1), and it states that elementary and secondary school teachers are exempt. As a preschool only, the facility was wrong in claiming that defense, and the judge awarded its teachers back wages for the overtime they worked.

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