I was reading this article about LucasArts folding, and someone in comments pointed to this article on overtime laws which states that "computer professionals" have a different standard for being eligible for overtime:

The first standard is that an exempt [ineligible for overtime] employee must make more than $23,660 per year, unless that employee is a computer professional. Certain classifications of computer professionals must make more than $57,470 per year to be considered exempt. These include computer programmers and software engineers

What is the rationale for certain classifications of job being exempt from overtime laws?

And why do computer professionals have specifically different rules concerning overtime?

  • I've looked around and can't find anything documenting the why of the exemption for IT employees. I suspect it's due to the cyclical nature of a lot of IT work, but that doesn't explain why other cyclical jobs aren't exempt.
    – JNK
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 15:42
  • Could you explain the 'cyclical' nature of IT work? I've never noticed it. Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 18:48
  • @DJClayworth For the jobs mentioned, there tend to be periods of intense activity (product releases for programmers, maintenance windows/outages for sysadmins) punctuating periods of "normal" activity.
    – JNK
    Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 12:39
  • 3
    they didn't pay their lobbyists enough
    – user1726
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 2:53
  • 1
    I'm trying to find reasoning, but here's the rule: dol.gov/whd/overtime/fs17e_computer.pdf
    – David Rice
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


The reasoning is in the reason for Overtime rates in the first place

Before overtime regulations were introduced in 1938, working hours were often exceedingly long and brutal for the average American worker. Blue-collar employees in industrial settings often worked 10-16 hours a day - many employers took advantage of high poverty rates to force their employees to work around the clock just to earn enough money to keep food on the table. Source

The positions that are exempted are generally highly paid positions. The idea behind overtime wages is not to prevent workers from working long hours, but rather to make sure that the workers are compensated for doing so, and that companies are provided with incentive to hire more workers rather than just making existing workers work longer hours. If your company commonly needs people working 16 hour days, they may be better off hiring 2 people for that job than having one person work 16 hours a day as they can save 50% in labor costs. The Unions benefit because now 2 people are paying union dues and they have more people in their organization providing them a little more clout.

The exemption law is quite specific to make sure that it is the duties performed not the primary job role that determines the qualifications for the exemption. This prevents factories from hiring "Managers" to work 90 hour weeks in a factory making things.


It has to do with the nature of the job, itself, in theory.

Originally, it was hourly workers vs. managerial workers. Workers get told what to do and basically get paid for their steady production output, so an hourly model for compensation is reasonable. They get paid overtime so employers won't skimp on hiring new employees to save on benefits and overhead and grind the regular employees into dust with grueling hours on a regular basis.

Since there is not a specific production output, and the productivity gains are more in how managers organize the work of those below them, there's not a lot of advantage to making them work longer hours, and, because they control their own work to a much larger extent, it doesn't make sense to try to do that, either.

As we saw the rise in "white collar" positions, where the work is more technical and based on intellectual output vs physical labor, but those workers don't directly supervise others, you have kind of an in-between status there. Basically, those workers have a lot of latitude and leeway in how they get their work done, and the concern is less how many hours they spend on the job and more on getting the job done.

If I'm an exceptionally good production line worker, I can do a lot of work output on a consistent basis. My total output is linked to my time on the line, and there's always more work for me to do.

If I'm a good "white collar" worker, I might be a better worker if I find a work efficiency improvement/solution in 25 hours vs. someone who finds that same solution but takes 35 hours. Should the person who takes 10 hours more be compensated more? No, probably not. So, instead, theoretically, both workers get compensated for getting the job done, and are paid on a salaried basis. Since workers want to please, and employers can always find work for good workers to do, it often works out that "exempt" workers do work more than 40 hours a week for no additional compensation.

However, it also means that the company can't sit there and watch the clock and say "you only worked 38 hours last week and I want to dock you pay." If there is an issue, they have to show that the job is not getting done. Exempt employees don't check in and check out the same way hourly workers do, and when they take leave, they can't be required to take an hour here, and hour there, that counts against their PTO banks. In some cases, it's half or full days, in others, they only get charged for full days off. If I need to take two hours for a doctor's appointment, the assumption is that I'll make it up somewhere along the line, or will, on my own volition, put in for that half or full day if I take enough "nickel and dime" time away that it eventually adds up to that much that I haven't made up. Or I don't, and I'm able to not charge the time because I'm good enough at getting my work done, so it doesn't become an issue.

Some companies struggle with not micromanaging or controlling their employees, but that's how it's supposed to work.

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