Alaska Overtime law requires covered employers to pay overtime to covered employees. One exemption to the overtime law is the Professional Employee Exemption. The old Alaska exemption was not the same as the Federal Exemption and was particularly vague. The Alaska Supreme Court provided guidance on interpreting the old statute in Dayhoff v. Temsco Helicopters, Inc., 848 P.2d 1367, 1371 (Alaska 1993). In Dayhoff the court provided a four-part test to define whether an employee was an exempt professional. Under Dayoff, an employee was an exempt professional if:
- the employee’s primary duty is to perform work requiring knowledge of advanced type,
- the work requires consistent exercise of discretion,
- the work [is] predominantly intellectual and varied, and
- the work [is] compensated on a fee basis.”
Under this test commercial pilots were exempt employees. This position was previously affirmed in Era Aviation, Inc. v. Lindfors,17 P.3d 40 (Alaska 2000). It was also the opinion other states had reached. Paul v. Petroleum Equip. Tools Co., 708 F.2d 168 (5th Cir. 1983); Kitty Hawk Air Cargo, Inc. v. Chao, 304 F. Supp. 2d 897 (N.D. Tex. 2004). But these cases preceded the amendment to 29 C.F.R. § 541.301 in 2004.
The Alaska legislature amended the Alaska Overtime law (Alaska Wage and Hour Act) in 2005. The legislature adopt the federal definition of this exemption. However, the federal code of federal regulation implementing the federal definition was itself amended in 2004. The new federal regulation restricted the exemption to employees in “professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d) (2014).
Since the 2004 amendment of 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d), every federal court considering whether pilots fall within the professional exemption has concluded that they do not, because commercial piloting does not require specialized academic training as a standard prerequisite. In Pignataro v. Port Authority, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s determination that helicopter pilots did not qualify for the professional exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The appellate court acknowledged the significant credentials required to become a Port Authority helicopter pilot: 2,000 hours of flying time, a commercial helicopter pilot certificate, a second class medical certificate, knowledge of the FAA’s rules and regulations, and a high school diploma or GED. But critically, none of those credentials involved the attainment of an advanced academic degree — the “pilots’ knowledge and skills were acquired through experience and supervised training as opposed to intellectual, academic instruction.” For this reason, the court concluded that the pilots were “not ‘learned professionals’ and . . . not exempt from the provisions of the [Fair Labor Standards Act].
Alaska Pilots are not exempt employees from the Overtime laws. Accordingly, they are entitled to time and a half for any hours over 8 in a day or 40 in a week. How many other professions don’t require specialized academic training as a standard perquisite?