California Court of Appeal Limits Administrative Exemption

Insurance claims adjusters were ruled "non-exempt" under the administrative exemption in what is known as the Bell cases. See Bell v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 805; Bell v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 715. So, in Harris v. Superior Court, the Court of Appeal found that Liberty Mutual claims adjusters likewise were non-exempt.

The headline here, though, is that the Court thoroughly analyzed the administrative test, and explained the limited applicability of the administrative test in California (although the court claimed it was relying on federal regulations). The two key points are these:

- exempt administrative work must involve policy making, higher level, office work. The court sets a high bar here, rendering lower level employees in traditionally administrative

- "production" work - by definition not administrative - does not have to involve actually producing the product or service that the employer sells. Rather, even office work is "production" when it is simply carrying out policies.

This decision should be closely examined when classifying employees in back-office departments such as MIS, accounting, and maybe even HR. The exemption may be tougher to prove for lower-level administrative jobs in the more vertical, larger organizations.