Many librarians are about to become non-exempt

The update to the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) are going to take effect starting next month.  The primary change is the increase in salary level thresholds for “white collar” exemptions from overtime pay from $23,600 to $47,467.  The Library Journal’s Placements & Salaries Survey 2015 shows that the median librarian salary is $43,000 ($42,500 for academic librarians).  This means that most librarians are about to become non-exempt.

Ostensibly, this is a good thing – most librarians will now be eligible for overtime pay.  However, for many, myself included, it is not a welcome change for a number of reasons:

Recordkeeping hindrance

Now that we are eligible for overtime pay, all hours worked must be tracked.  The FLSA recordkeeping requirements state that the employer must maintain a record of hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek.  It does not require a specific method for doing this. It can be done through simple timesheets or, like my institution, through a clock-in/out method.

Clocking in and out is impractical for any worker that doesn’t work in a static environment with an unchanging routine.  Librarians, especially those working in a small library, tend to have dynamic schedules that would make clocking in at a specific location or even through a digital platform impractical.  For instance, the first thing I do when I begin work is open the library – I have to turn on lights and equipment, login computers, change out daily resources, perhaps assist a patron who was waiting for the library to open.  By the time I get situated at my desk, startup my computer, and login to the clock-in platform it’s likely 15 minutes into my shift.  Closing the library at the end of a shift presents similar problems.  If 30 minutes a day gets shaved off my shifts from not being able to punch in when I actually start or stop working, that means I’m “losing” 2.5 hours a week. So then if I do work a couple of hours of overtime, it will just even out in the system and I wouldn’t get compensated for that overtime – which is the whole point of the FLSA change.  And a more grim concern: if I’m only working 37.5 hours/week according to the system, are my full-time benefits in jeopardy?

And that’s just one of many concerns about a clock-in system: What about days I’m not working in the library?  What if I’m at a conference or an off-site meeting?  What if the internet is down and I can’t clock in or out?  What if I’m answering reference emails from home?

The loss of professional status

The FLSA allows exceptions from the rule for “professionals”.  To qualify for the exemption, an employee must be salaried and meet the salary level and duties test.  The new salary level is $47,476, which many librarians will not be meeting.  The duties test for professionals is that an employee’s primary duty is work that requires “advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning that requires invention, imagination, originality, or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor”.  Librarians easily fall into this designation, which is why librarians that make over $47,476 will be remaining exempt.

For librarians making under $47,476, it feels like we are losing our status as professionals.  Many see it as a demotion.  Our institutions no longer see us a qualifying professionals and we now have to clock in.  It is demoralizing.  And aside from how a status change makes us feel, the new recordkeeping may actually hinder us from engaging in professional development and practices if we’re expected to keep static schedules that don’t go outside of our regular work areas.

More librarians will be affected in the future: the salary level requirements will continue to rise, with the next increase planned for 2020.  So it’s just a matter of time before nearly all librarians become non-exempt.  It looks like we’ll just have to get used to the loss of “professional” status when it comes to overtime pay.  I just hope we can discover a more unobtrusive recordkeeping method.

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