5 CFR § 551.208 - Learned professionals.
(a) To qualify for the learned professional exemption, an employee's primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. The work must include the following three elements:
(1) The employee must perform work requiring advanced knowledge. Work requiring advanced knowledge is predominantly intellectual in character and includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment, as distinguished from performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work. An employee who performs work requiring advanced knowledge generally uses the advanced knowledge to analyze, interpret or make deductions from varying facts or circumstances. Advanced knowledge cannot be attained at the high school level;
(2) The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning which includes the traditional professions of law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, various types of physical, chemical and biological sciences, pharmacy, and other similar occupations that have a recognized professional status as distinguished from the mechanical arts or skilled trades where in some instances the knowledge is of a fairly advanced type, but is not in a field of science or learning; and
(3) The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction which restricts the exemption to professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite for entrance into the profession. The best prima facie evidence that an employee meets this requirement is possession of the appropriate academic degree. However, the word “customarily” means that the exemption is appropriate for employees in such professions who have substantially the same knowledge level and perform substantially the same work as the degreed employees, but who attained the advanced knowledge through a combination of work experience and intellectual instruction. For example, the learned professional exemption is appropriate in unusual cases where a lawyer has not gone to law school, or a chemist does not possess a degree in chemistry. However, the learned professional exemption is not applicable to occupations that customarily may be performed with only the general knowledge acquired by an academic degree in any field, with knowledge acquired through an apprenticeship, or with training in the performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical processes. The learned professional exemption also does not apply to occupations in which most employees have acquired their skill by experience rather than by advanced specialized intellectual instruction. The position of Engineering Technician is an example of such an occupation where the employee collects, observes, tests and records factual scientific data within the oversight of professional engineers, and performs work using knowledge acquired through on-the-job and classroom training rather than by acquiring the knowledge through prolonged academic study.
(b) Expansion of professional exemption. The areas in which the professional exemption may be applicable are expanding. As knowledge is developed, academic training is broadened and specialized degrees are offered in new and diverse fields, thus creating new specialists in particular fields of science or learning. When an advanced specialized degree has become a standard requirement for a particular occupation, that occupation may have acquired the characteristics of a learned profession. Accrediting and certifying organizations similar to those listed in this section also may be created in the future. Such organizations may develop similar, specialized curriculums and certification programs which, if a standard requirement for a particular occupation, may indicate that the occupation has acquired the characteristics of a learned profession.
(c) Practice of law.
(1) This exemption applies to an employee in a professional legal position requiring admission to the bar and involved in preparing cases for trial and/or the trial of cases before a court or an administrative body or persons having quasi-judicial power; rendering legal advice and services; preparing interpretive and administrative orders, rules, or regulations; drafting, negotiating, or examining contracts or other legal documents; drafting, preparing formal comments, or otherwise making substantive recommendations with respect to proposed legislation; editing and preparing for publication statutes enacted by Congress and opinions or decisions of a court, commission, or board; and drafting and reviewing decisions for consideration and adoption by agency officials.
(d) Practice of medicine.
(1) An employee who holds a valid license or certificate permitting the practice of medicine or any of its branches and is actually engaged in the practice of the profession is exempt. The exemption applies to physicians and other practitioners licensed and practicing in the field of medical science and healing or any of the medical specialties practiced by physicians or practitioners. The term “physicians” includes medical doctors, including general practitioners and specialists, osteopathic physicians (doctors of osteopathy), podiatrists, dentists (doctors of dental medicine), and optometrists (doctors of optometry or bachelors of science in optometry).
(2) An employee who holds the required academic degree for the general practice of medicine and is engaged in an internship or resident program pursuant to the practice of the profession is exempt. Employees engaged in internship or resident programs, whether or not licensed to practice prior to commencement of the program, qualify as exempt professionals if they enter such internship or resident programs after the earning of the appropriate degree required for the general practice of their profession.
(e) Accounting. Certified public accountants generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption. An employee performing similar professional work in a position with a positive educational requirement and requiring the application of accounting theories, concepts, principles, and standards may qualify as an exempt learned professional. However, accounting clerks and technicians and other employees who normally perform a great deal of routine work generally will not qualify as exempt professionals.
(f) Engineering. Engineers generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption. Professional engineering work typically involves the application of a knowledge of such engineering fundamentals as the strength and strain analysis of engineering materials and structures, the physical and chemical characteristics of engineering materials such as elastic limits, maximum unit stresses, coefficients of expansion, workability, hardness, tendency to fatigue, resistance to corrosion, engineering adaptability, and engineering methods of construction and processing. Exempt professional engineering work includes equivalent work performed in any of the specialized branches of engineering (e.g., electrical, mechanical, or materials engineering). On unusual occasions, engineering technicians performing work comparable to that performed by professional engineers on the basis of advanced knowledge may also be exempt. In such instances, the employee actually is performing the work of an occupation that generally requires a specialized academic degree and is performing substantially the same work as the degreed employee, but has gained the same advanced knowledge through a combination of work experience and intellectual instruction which has provided both theoretical and practical knowledge of the specialty, including knowledge of related disciplines and of new developments in the field.
(g) Architecture. Architects generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption. Professional architectural work typically requires knowledge of architectural principles, theories, concepts, methods, and techniques; a creative and artistic sense; and an understanding and skill to use pertinent aspects of the construction industry, as well as engineering and the physical sciences related to the design and construction of new, or the improvement of existing, buildings.
(h) Teachers. A teacher is any employee with a primary duty of teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge and who is employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment by which the employee is employed.
(1) A teacher performs exempt work when serving, for example, as a regular academic teacher; teacher of kindergarten or nursery school pupils; teacher of gifted or disabled children; teacher of skilled and semi-skilled trades and occupations; teacher engaged in automobile driving instruction; aircraft flight instructor; home economics teacher; or vocal or instrumental music instructor. A faculty member who is engaged as a teacher but also spends a considerable amount of time in extracurricular activities such as coaching athletic teams or acting as a moderator or advisor in such areas as drama, speech, debate, or journalism is engaged in teaching. Such activities are a recognized part of an educational establishment's responsibility in contributing to the educational development of the student. An instructor in an institution of higher education or another educational establishment whose primary duty is teaching, tutoring, instructing, or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge is also an exempt teacher.
(2) The possession of an elementary or secondary teacher's certificate provides a clear means of identifying the individuals contemplated as being within the scope of the exemption for teaching professionals. Teachers who possess a teaching certificate qualify for the exemption regardless of the terminology (e.g., permanent, conditional, standard, provisional, temporary, emergency, or unlimited) used by appropriate certifying entities. However, a teacher's certificate is not generally necessary for post-secondary educational establishments.
(3) Exempt teachers do not include teachers of skilled and semi-skilled trade, craft, and laboring occupations when the paramount knowledge is the knowledge of and the ability to perform the trade, craft, or laboring occupation. Conversely, if the primary requirement of the post-secondary education instructor is the ability to instruct, as opposed to knowledge of and ability to perform a trade, craft, or laboring occupation, then the position may be exempt.
(i) Medical technologists. Registered or certified medical technologists who have successfully completed 3 academic years of pre-professional study in an accredited college or university, plus a 4th year of professional course work in a school of medical technology approved by the Council of Medical Education of the American Medical Association, generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption.
(j) Nurses. Registered nurses who are registered by the appropriate State examining board generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption. Licensed practical nurses and other similar health care employees, however, generally do not qualify as exempt learned professionals because possession of a specialized advanced academic degree is not a standard prerequisite for entry into such occupations.
(k) Dental hygienists. Dental hygienists who have successfully completed 4 academic years of pre-professional and professional study in an accredited college or university approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Dental and Dental Auxiliary Educational Programs of the American Dental Association generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption.
(l) Physician assistants. Physician assistants who have successfully completed 4 academic years of pre-professional and professional study, including graduation from a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, and who are certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption.
(m) Paralegals. Paralegals and legal assistants generally do not qualify as exempt learned professionals because an advanced, specialized academic degree is not a standard prerequisite for entry into the field. Although many paralegals possess general 4-year advanced degrees, most specialized paralegal programs are 2-year associate degree programs from a community college or equivalent institution. However, the learned professional exemption is applicable to paralegals who possess advanced, specialized degrees in other professional fields and apply advanced knowledge in that field in the performance of their duties. In addition, a paralegal who fails to meet the professional exemption criteria may be performing exempt administrative work, e.g., overseeing a full range of support services for a large legal office.