DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES OPINION LETTER REGARDING COMMUNITY MEMBERS WHO SERVE AS COACHES AND THE FLSA TEACHER EXEMPTION
March 1, 2018
On January 5, 2018, the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In particular, the opinion letter addressed the application of the FLSA to community members who serve as coaches of athletic teams for public schools. The DOL concluded that the coaches in question qualified as teachers under the FLSA and, therefore, were exempt from the minimum wage and overtime provisions.
It is common for teachers, administrators, and support staff to also serve as coaches for school district athletic teams. On the other hand, a coach may be a community member who is not employed by the school district in another capacity. Questions often arise regarding whether a school district has an obligation to pay minimum wage and/or overtime pay in this type of situation.
The FLSA contains certain exemptions from the minimum wage and overtime requirements. For instance, one of the exemptions is referred to as the “teacher exemption,” which covers teachers if their primary duty is teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, and if they are employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment. An “educational establishment” includes elementary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education. This exemption recognizes that when one has a primary duty of teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, generally his or her position inherently includes the exercise of discretion and judgment.
The DOL concluded that coaches qualify for this exemption if their primary duty is teaching and imparting knowledge to students in an educational establishment. It relied on a provision in the FLSA regulations providing that “[t]hose faculty members who are engaged as teachers but also spend a considerable amount of their time in extracurricular activities such as coaching athletic teams or acting as moderators or advisors in such areas as drama, speech, debate or journalism are engaged in teaching. Such activities are a recognized part of the schools’ responsibility in contributing to the educational development of the student.” In addition, it reasoned that the regulations for the teacher exemption do not require a teaching certificate in order to meet the exemption, nor do the regulations require a minimum education or academic degree in order to meet the exemption. Further, unlike other exempt professional employees, the salary and salary basis requirements do not apply to the teacher exemption.
Because the DOL determined that the coaches referenced in the opinion letter were exempt from the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the FLSA under the teacher exemption, the school was free to set the coaches’ compensation as it deemed appropriate.
Importantly, the opinion letter was issued in response to a specific set of facts, including that the community members who serve as coaches spend most of their time instructing student athletes in the rules and fundamentals of the specific sports. The DOL clarified that the coaches whose primary duties were not related to teaching, such as those who perform clerical or administrative tasks, including student athlete recruitment, or performing manual labor, would not meet the teacher exemption. Moreover, the opinion letter did not involve coaches who were employed by the school or school district in a different, non-exempt capacity. In this latter situation, different rules would apply. For instance, non-exempt school staff may volunteer to coach and receive a stipend in certain circumstances; however, this requires a close analysis of the facts and applicable regulations.
This opinion letter provides helpful guidance for school districts that employ community members to coach student athletic teams and other extracurricular activities. However, it is important to analyze each situation on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA apply.
For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Jenna E. Rousseau (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: 844.833.0828), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis, & Lacy, s.c., attorney.
 29 C.F.R. § 541.303(b).
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