Despite the fact that leading corporations have more than doubled their profits since 2009, the New York Times reports that wages for employees working for these companies have remained stagnant. There’s no question that something is amiss in today’s corporate economy when companies are reporting record profits, but the employees charged with bringing in those profits are stuck with recession-level pay.

In an effort to combat this obvious disparity in corporate income and employee compensation, President Obama has directed the Department of Labor to revise its regulations regarding overtime compensation.

For nearly a decade, the Department of Labor has enforced provisions that have been used to keep overtime pay out of the hands of hardworking employees. Of particular concern to the President’s directive is the so-called “executive” exemption, which prohibits certain managerial employees from receiving overtime compensation. While the term “executive” brings to mind high-level supervisors, the executive exemption has often been applied by companies and courts to a number of lower level employees that have relatively little managerial authority.

For an employee to considered an “executive” under the current regulations, four requirements must be met:

(1) The employee must be compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week ;
(2) The employee’s primary duty is management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof;
(3) the employee customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more other employees; and
(4) the employee has the authority to hire or fire other employees or whose suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, promotion or any other change of status of other employees are given particular weight.

Apart from the salary requirement, the rest of the requirements are fairly broad, giving employers a large amount of room for interpretation. In particular, the “primary duty” requirement has been the cause of a lot of contention. The Department of Labor and federal courts have classified workers as “executive” employees even in cases where only a fraction of an employee’s duties consist of managerial work.

From the NYT:

Under current rules, it literally means that you can spend 95 percent of the time sweeping floors and stocking shelves, and if you’re responsible for supervising people 5 percent of the time, you can then be considered executive and be exempt,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research organization in Washington.

Under President Obama’s proposed rules, employees will have to perform a minimum percentage of management-level work before they are exempted from overtime pay. Additionally, the new revisions would raise the minimum amount of pay that would exempt an employee from overtime. As it stands now, a worker being paid $455 a week, or a mere $23,660 a year, can be considered an “executive” employee. The revisions would raise the threshold salary to a much more reasonable figure of $984 a week, or around $51,000 per year.

While these new provisions have yet to be promulgated by the Department of Labor, the President’s public announcement of this directive bodes well for the many workers who have been struggling in the current economy. We’ll keep you updated on this situation as more information becomes available, and will break down how these regulations affect your rights once they’re passed.