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Technical Writers Exempt From Overtime Requirements

    Client Alerts
  • July 27, 2007

Technical Writers develop manuals and other instruction materials for users of machinery, software, and other complicated applications.  For years, courts and the Department of Labor have struggled over the question of Technical Writers' entitlement to overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In a new decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court concluded that the employees are exempt from overtime requirements.  In most FLSA litigation regarding Technical Writers, the plaintiffs argue that the position does not fall within any applicable overtime exemption.  The writers claim that the position involves creation of instructions based upon existing materials, and is not of a creative nature sufficient to qualify for the Professional exemption.

In the new decision, Renfro v. Indiana Michigan Power Co., the Sixth Circuit found the Technical Writers exempt under the FLSA's Administrative exemption.  The court concluded that the writers exercise significant discretion and independent judgment in carrying out their duties.  Despite the procedure-driven nature of their duties, the work is not mechanical nor restricted to application of prescribed procedures.  While the writers have guidelines and available resources, they were not closely supervised, nor were they limited in their development of maintenance procedures.

Not all Technical Writer positions will meet this standard.  To claim the exemption, the employer must show that the employees exercise significant discretion as opposed to following developed procedures.  However, the Administrative exemption will apply in cases such as this, where the employees truly have the authority to decide the best way to construct technical manual.