Field Engineer and Service Technician FLSA Overtime Considerations
Our wage and hour practice group is very familiar with the wage and hour legal considerations, including those relating to overtime, pertaining to service technicians and field engineers in Missouri and across the country.
Field engineers and service technicians commonly travel around a region or across the country to perform service or repair work on behalf of companies and/or their affiliated entities, in such industries as construction, telecommunications, engineering, oil and gas and military contractors. They generally have an associate's degree or training in electronics with hands-on service experience in the field. In short, they provide technical support and perform manual work for an employer or its customers, commonly providing mobile services based upon assigned tickets or instruction, perform technical review and inspection, and perform equipment and other hardware troubleshooting and maintenance.
FLSA Exempt/Non-Exempt Considerations
Because this work largely involves manual repair and maintenance tasks, many--but not all--employees are FLSA-classified as non-exempt. When they are not, questions commonly arise as to whether such employees are misclassified as exempt from overtime pay and not properly paid overtime compensation. The United States Department of Labor—through Opinion Letters issued over the years—has generally held that most field engineers or service technicians are entitled to overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.
Some companies believe they may avoid or circumvent the FLSA by classifying workers as exempt based on one or more exemptions under the FLSA (e.g., computer employee, administrative, professional, executive exemptions, etc.). However, courts have warned that words such as "engineer" in an employee's title does not automatically make the employee exempt under the FLSA. See Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp., 586 F.3d 201, 205 (2d Cir. 2009) ("…it is not the case that 'anyone employed in the field of…engineering…will qualify for exemption as a professional employee…. [t]he field of 'engineering' has many persons with 'engineer' titles, who are not professional engineers"). The correct determination of "exempt" status implicates a wide variety of fact-intensive questions and considerations about employees' actual job duties and responsibilities. Id. ("the exemption of [an] individual depends upon his duties and other qualifications"); Grage v. Northern States Power Co.-Minnesota, 813 F.3d 1051, 1056 (8th Cir. 2015) ("[a] job title alone is insufficient to establish the exempt status of an employee").
Nonetheless, certain exemptions under the FLSA—like the Motor Carrier Act ("MCA") exemption—turn on slightly different considerations and have exceptions to them that must be considered. For example, in Rychorcewicz v. Welltec, Inc., the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that certain field engineers for an oil and gas company were exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA because their job duties involved frequent interstate travel and their activities directly affected the operational safety of motor vehicles in the transport of property in interstate commerce. 768 Fed. Appx. 252, 255-56 (11th Cir. 2019). The Court considered whether the Technical Correction Act's exception to the MCA exemption applied—that is, an exception to the exemption for employees whose activities affect the safety of vehicles that weigh 10,000 lbs. or less. Id. While the Court concluded it did not, the case provides a useful example of why it is critically important to retain experienced and knowledgeable wage and hour legal counsel to analyze the legality of such wage and hour pay practices.
FLSA Pay Considerations
Beyond the question of FLSA classification status, the proper calculation and payment of overtime wages arises as an issue specific to field-engineer- or service-technician-related work. These issues include, but are not limited to, time waiting on-call, hours traveling to and from jobs, time filling out mandatory paperwork before and after jobs, what is properly included as pay and hours in calculating the regular rate of pay for purposes of overtime, etc. It is critical for employers to carefully consider these issues.
In some circumstances, field engineers or service technicians are paid "by the job" (i.e., on a piece-rate basis) or per diem. Paying wages on a piece rate or per diem basis is permissible under FLSA regulations. This, however, does not provide an independent basis for field engineers and service technicians to not be paid overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Paying these workers solely on a piece-rate or per diem basis, without regard for the actual number of hours worked in a workweek, can often result in a violation of the FLSA. It is imperative that companies make and maintain accurate record of these workers' hours worked each workweek, as required by the FLSA and its regulations, should any dispute arise. If an employer did not make and maintain records of hours worked each week, employees are often permitted by a court to rely on reasonable, good-faith estimates of the number of hours worked each week to prove an amount of unpaid overtime.
In short, employers in St. Louis, Missouri and nationwide should carefully review and be sure about their employee classifications and exemptions before disputes arise to avoid or minimize potential liabilities. Companies expose themselves to liabilities under the FLSA by not doing careful review in advance and subsequently not tracking or accounting for time worked and/or not properly paying field engineers and service technicians overtime compensation.
Our firm possesses specialized knowledge and experience in overtime cases under the FLSA involving field engineers and service technicians. Please do not hesitate to contact our Firm regarding such a matter.