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More School Workers Qualify for Overtime Under New Rule. Teachers Remain Exempt

School districts will be required to offer overtime pay to more employees under a federal rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday, but teachers will remain exempt from the regulation.

The agency did not act on a request from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, to end exemptions for teachers, who are currently included in the categories of employees that do not qualify for mandatory overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Labor Department said that the request was outside of the scope of the current review.

Such a change “ would have been groundbreaking in terms of what it would mean to district budgets because we all know teachers work more than 40 hours,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of advocacy and governance at AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

The new rule raises the minimum salary threshold for non-teaching worker exemptions. Since 2019, eligible employees who earn less than $35,308 a year have qualified for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. Effective July 1, the new rule will increase that salary maximum level to $43,888, and it will increase again to $58,656 on Jan. 1, 2025. Salary thresholds will update every three years starting in July 2027, relying on new federal data on average wages, the Labor Department said.

“This rule will restore the promise to workers that if you work more than 40 hours in a week, you should be paid more for that time,” said Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su in a statement.

While teachers and school administrators are exempt from the federal overtime rule, the change will lead to increased overtime costs for some district employees, like school nurses, athletic trainers, and librarians, school administrator groups previously warned. And it could increase the burden of recordkeeping and tracking hours for more employees, those organizations said.

AASA has been preparing district leaders for the shift for months, Ng said Tuesday. In some cases, districts will have to make the choice about whether to offer newly qualifying employees overtime or to hire additional employees to help lower their workloads, she said.

The Texas School Boards Association suggested in a September member advisory that it may be easier for school districts to avoid overtime by raising some employees’ pay to a level above the salary threshold if their current compensation falls slightly below the proposed cutoff.

“These are significant changes that will have a massive impact on the economy and millions of current and future workers,” said a September letter from 107 organizations representing a variety of industries, including AASA, the Association of School Business Officials International, the Association of Educational Service Agencies, and the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

The Labor Department estimates about 4 million employees will newly qualify for overtime after the rule fully takes effect.

Teachers not affected by new overtime rule

The Labor Department noted a flood of comments calling for the agency to remove the teacher exemption from the overtime rules. But the agency said it would require a separate rulemaking process to consider such a change.

The NEA argued for the change in a November letter to federal regulators.

“It no longer makes sense to treat teachers, 44 percent of whom are paid below the proposed salary threshold, the same as high-earning doctors and lawyers,” wrote Alice O’Brien, the general counsel for the NEA. “Instead, teachers, a heavily female profession that suffers from a large and growing wage gap compared with other similarly educated professionals, should be provided the same protections as other white-collar professionals whose exempt status depends not just on job duties, but also on salary.”

Doctors and lawyers are also among the employees exempt from mandatory overtime under the law, but tend to be much more highly paid than educators. Last year, the median salary for doctors was $229,300, and the median salary for lawyers was $135,740, the NEA’s letter noted. The median pay for teachers was $66,397.

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