NNA MEMBER ALERT: Community newspaper journalists may qualify as exempt professionals

Tonda Rush

Jan 19, 2021

The Department of Labor rules community newspaper journalists may qualify as exempt professionals under Fair Labor Standards Act, under a letter ruling for an unnamed publisher.

The ruling, which applies strictly only to the publisher for which it was crafted, nevertheless takes a new look at the changed responsibilities of small-town journalists. Earlier court cases ruled that community journalists were thought to be involved only in covering government, rewriting press releases and providing factual summaries of events and could not qualify as creative professionals.

But in the letter ruling, the Labor Department says it believes there are changing skills involved in community newspapering now — skills that require more “invention, imagination, creativity and talent” than simply intelligence and accuracy. In that case, journalists would qualify as creative professionals who are exempt under the FLSA provided the minimum wage rate is exceeded. The current minimum salary for exempt professionals is $35,568 annually or $684 weekly.

Exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week. But if they report for duty in a week, they are eligible for the week’s salary even if they do not work a full week.

Because the job descriptions addressed by the letter ruling are not identified, the ruling does not lay out the criteria for other companies. Employers should consult their attorneys before reclassifying employees.

The letter ruling is here: https://www.nna.org/pub/doc/2021_01_19_07_FLSA.pdf