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In This Section

Pay & Leave Claim Decisions

Washington, DC

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Fair Labor Standards Act Decision
Under section 204(f) of title 29, United States Code

George R. Armstrong
Criminal Investigator
GS-1811-13
Internal Revenue Service
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Position should be nonexempt, thus due FLSA overtime pay
Nonexempt; potentially due FLSA overtime pay
F-1811-13-26

Linda Kazinetz
Classification Appeals and FLSA Claims
Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

08/15/2017


Date

As provided in section 551.708 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision is binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing, and accounting officials of agencies for which the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The agency should identify all similarly situated current and, to the extent possible, former employees, ensure that they are treated in a manner consistent with this decision, and inform them in writing of their right to file an FLSA claim with the agency or OPM.  There is no further right of administrative appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in 5 CFR 551.708 (address provided in section 551.710).  The claimant has the right to bring action in the appropriate Federal court if dissatisfied with this decision.

The agency is to review whether the claimant has worked overtime in accordance with instructions in the “Decision” section of this decision, and if the claimant is determined to be entitled to back pay, the agency must pay the claimant the amount owed him plus interest as provided in 5 CFR 550.806.  If the claimant believes the agency has incorrectly computed the amount owed him, he may file a new FLSA claim with this office.

Introduction

On December 20, 2011, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) received a letter dated December 20, 2011, from the Law Offices of Bernstein & Lipsett, P.C. (B & L), the claimant’s duly appointed representative, concerning a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim they had initially filed on the claimant’s behalf with the General Accounting Office (GAO), now the U.S. Government Accountability Office, on December 20, 1993, and subsequently with OPM on or about September 9, 1999, challenging his exemption status under the FLSA when he was employed as a Criminal Investigator, GS-1811-13, at various duty locations within the Criminal Investigations Division, Branch A, Group 3, Newark District Office, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department of the Treasury, in Newark, New Jersey.  The claimant was a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims at approximately the same time the administrative claim was filed with GAO.  Based on information provided by B & L, the claimant was awarded back pay under a settlement agreement for the pay period ending December 28, 1991, to the pay period ending October 29, 1994, subject to the two-year statute of limitations for FLSA claims under 29 United States Code (U.S.C.) 255(a).

B & L has requested OPM adjudicate the administrative claim filed with OPM and asserts that, because the claimant served in the military during the Gulf War, the statute of limitations applicable to this claim is the five-year statute of limitations under 31 U.S.C. 3702(b)(2) rather than the two-year statute of limitations (three years for willful violations) applicable to FLSA administrative claims filed under the Barring Act.  See 73 Comp. Gen 157 (May 23, 1994); 31 U.S.C. 3702(b); 29 U.S.C. 255(a).  B & L states the claimant was called to active duty with the United States Air Force Reserve “from approximately October 1, 1990 to October 12, 1990 and November 5, 1990 to November 16, 1990” in connection with Operation Desert Shield/Storm[1] and, citing the provisions of 31 U.S.C. 3702(b)(2), asserts: “[H]e is entitled to retroactive back pay and interest … for the period he was employed prior to the commencement of the Gulf War on August 2, 1990, in addition to the period he was employed by IRS after the commencement of the Gulf War up to the date he recovered under previous FLSA settlements.  This period includes August 2, 1985 to December 14, 1991, less Mr. Armstrong’s active duty military service time, for which he does not seek recovery.”

In reaching our FLSA claim decision, we have carefully reviewed all information furnished by the claimant’s representative and the agency, including information obtained from a telephonic interview with the claimant, who retired from Federal civilian service on January 1, 1996.  We also interviewed by telephone a former coworker (now retired) who worked with the claimant during the claim period.

Background

We previously accepted and decided a claim filed by the claimant’s representative on his behalf (and that of five other claimants) under section 4(f) of the FLSA, as amended, codified at section 204(f) of title 29, U.S.C., which we denied as time barred.  Subsequently, claimant’s representative brought suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 551 et seq., and 701 et seq.) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that OPM wrongfully applied a two-year statute of limitations in denying the administrative claims for unpaid FLSA overtime pay.  Armstrong v. Archuleta, 77 F.Supp.3d 9 (December 30, 2014).  In relevant part, the court stated in its opinion:

All Plaintiffs are deemed to have timely filed their claims as of the date of their filings with the Claims Court.  As a result, Plaintiffs can recover for the entire claim period under the five-year statute of limitations—that is, for all claims that accrued within five years before the Gulf War commenced on August 2, 1990—minus monies paid under their DOJ Settlements.

***************

[T]he case is remanded to OPM to adjudicate and process damages in accordance with FLSA and other applicable laws, and Plaintiffs’ respective employing agencies are directed to compensate them in accordance with OPM’s determinations.

Therefore, we will apply the five-year statute of limitations and corrective methodology (subtracting monies already received under prior settlements or judgments) to the claimant’s claim.

Analysis

Under the provisions of 5 CFR 551.706, OPM determines the facts necessary to adjudicate a claim.  Applying the court’s mandate to determine whether the claimant is owed overtime under the FLSA, we must first determine whether the work he performed is exempt or nonexempt from the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.  On October 6, 2015, in response to the aforementioned court decision, OPM requested an agency administrative report (AAR) from IRS regarding this FLSA claim.  By letter dated June 14, 2017, the agency advised OPM that:

The [official personnel folder] for George R. Armstrong contains SF 50’s reflecting coding as it pertains to FLSA, during the claim period of August 1985 to December 14, 1991.  During this period, he served a Criminal Investigator … (1811 series) at a Grade 13 and [was] coded as FLSA exempt.

Regarding his GS-13 criminal investigator position, IRS advised that: “Upon review of all available information, we believe IRS considered Criminal Investigators as administrative employees and therefore, applied the administrative exemptions making them FLSA exempt. . . .  We believe IRS properly coded this employee as FLSA exempt during the entire claim period.”

Given the agency’s conclusion and the need to identify the actual duties performed by GS-13 criminal investigators like the claimant, our analysis will address the exemption status when he served as a GS-13 criminal investigator.

GS-1811-13 position occupied from August 2, 1985, to December 14, 1991

Position information

During the claim period, the claimant was assigned as a Criminal Investigator, GS-1811-13, working in various duty locations (e.g., Toms River, Mays Landing) within the geographic area covered by the IRS’s Newark District Office.  The claimant performed criminal tax evasion investigations covered under the provisions of title 26, U.S. Criminal Code, including those dealing with money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the Federal Government by not paying or under-paying individual or corporate income taxes.[2]  His cases ranged from investigations of small business owners or corporations (e.g., commercial food processors) to large national corporations (e.g., pharmaceutical manufacturers).  During our interview, the claimant described a variety of tax evasion cases.  One involved the largest processor of frozen bell peppers in southern New Jersey.  From information provided by a disgruntled employee of the company, the claimant learned that the business owner was inflating his expenses, including the purchase of peppers from fictitious farmers, thus lowering his profits to reduce his corporate and personal income taxes.  In addition, the business owner was involved in a money laundering scheme to hide unreported profits using a bond brokerage account.  The case was prosecuted by the local Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and went to trial resulting in the conviction of the business owner.  In another case, referred by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, the claimant investigated a local attorney participating with others in title insurance fraud.  This case involved surreptitious “kickbacks and pay offs” with title agents and others which the attorney did not report as income.  Another case the claimant investigated during part of the claim period involved a scheme by high-ranking accounting and financial managers to defraud a large local hospital and medical center where they were employed.  The case involved the setting up of fictitious accounts of vendors doing business with the hospital, which the violators then paid for false goods and services billed to the hospital.  The hospital comptroller issued checks for payment to these businesses which were “laundered” for a fee through a “check casher” business in Philadelphia, who then returned the balance to the hospital employees involved in the conspiracy.  The employees did not report these proceeds as personal income.  When discovered and investigated by the claimant, the comptroller was confronted with the evidence and cooperated in subsequent investigations of other employees involved in the illegal activity.  Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General were also involved in aspects of the investigation concerning the theft of government property.  Ultimately, some of the employees either took a “plea” in exchange for lower sentences or were prosecuted.

In performing investigations, the claimant independently applied the full scope of criminal investigative knowledge and techniques including requesting subpoenas; interviewing witnesses and suspects; conducting searches and seizures; securing and serving court-issued search warrants to review bank, business, and personal financial records; making arrests; piecing together lead information from a variety of sources; performing liaison with other Federal and local law enforcement agencies; developing evidence for presentation to the AUSA; and testifying at grand juries or trials of suspects in Federal court.  Knowledge required by the position included that of the laws, statutes, and regulations on which U.S. Treasury enforcement authorities are based, and specific case law regarding arrests, seizures, civil rights, and preservation of evidence.  The claimant worked under the general direction and guidance of his group manager who periodically reviewed the status and progress of his cases, and checked his reports of investigation for completeness (including exhibits and attachments) and whether they fully established and supported the violation so they could be forwarded to the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, or prosecuted by the local AUSA. 

Evaluation of FLSA Coverage

Sections 551.201 and 551.202 of title 5, CFR, require an employing agency to designate an employee FLSA exempt only when the agency correctly determines that the employee meets one or more of the exemption criteria.  In all exemption determinations, the agency must observe the following principles: (a) Each employee is presumed to be FLSA nonexempt.  (b) Exemption criteria must be narrowly construed to apply only to those employees who are clearly within the terms and spirit of the exemption.  (c) The burden of proof rests with the agency that asserts the exemption.  (d) If there is a reasonable doubt as to whether an employee meets the criteria for exemption, the employee should be designated FLSA nonexempt.  (e) The designation of a position’s FLSA status ultimately rests on the duties actually performed by the employee.

Because the claim period covers 1985 to 1991, we must apply the FLSA regulations of 5 CFR Part 551 (1984) in effect during the period of the claim.  However, in response to a court decision, OPM amended these regulations in 1988 by eliminating the presumption that employees in positions classified at GS-11 and above were exempt from the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA, and changed the criteria for determining whether a Federal employee was an executive under the FLSA.  See 53 Federal Register 1739-01 (January 22, 1988).  The claimant believes his position should have been designated as nonexempt from the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA and thus not covered by the executive, administrative, or professional exemptions as detailed in 5 CFR 551.204, 5 CFR 551.205, and 5 CFR 551.206 of those regulations.

Although the agency could not locate the claimant’s PD for the claim period, based on their review of “SF 50s and Payroll Listings,” the claimant’s position of Criminal Investigator, GS-1811-13, was treated as FLSA exempt under the administrative exemption.  Based on careful review of the record and the claimant’s assigned duties and responsibilities during the claim period, we conclude the claimant’s position did not meet the professional or executive exemption criteria and neither the claimant nor the agency disagrees.  Therefore, we have evaluated the position solely against the administrative exemption criteria.

Administrative Exemption Criteria

The regulation under 5 CFR 551.205 describes the administrative exemption criteria as follows: 

An administrative employee is an advisor, assistant, or representative of management, or a specialist in a management or general business function or supporting service, who meets all of the following criteria:

(a) The employee’s primary duty consists of work that:  (1) significantly affects the formulation or execution of management policies or programs; or (2) involves general management or business functions or supporting services of substantial importance to the organization serviced; or (3) involves substantial participation in the executive or administrative functions of a management official.

(b) The employee performs office or other predominantly non-manual work which is:  (1) intellectual and varied in nature; or (2) of a specialized or technical nature that requires considerable special training, experience, and knowledge.

(c) The employee must frequently exercise discretion and independent judgment, under only general supervision, in performing the normal day-to-day work.

Although no longer in effect, the definitions of terms used in the FLSA exemption criteria as contained in the Attachment to Federal Personnel Manual (FPM) Letter 551-7, dated July 1, 1975, provide useful guidance in applying in particular the administrative exemption criteria in 5 CFR 551.205 discussed above.  The meaning of terms relevant to the criteria follows.

(a)    Primary duty.  As a general rule, the primary duty is that which constitutes the major part (over 50%) of the employee’s work.

(b)   Formulation or execution of management policies or programs.  Management policies and programs range from broad national goals that are expressed in statutes or Executive Orders to specific objectives of a small field office.  Employees may actually make policy decisions or participate indirectly, through developing proposals that are acted on by others.  Employees who significantly affect the execution of management policies or programs typically are those whose work involves obtaining compliance with such policies by other individuals or organizations, within or outside of the Federal Government, or making significant determinations in furtherance of the operation of programs and accomplishment of program objectives.  Administrative employees engaged in formulation or execution of management policies or programs typically perform one or more phases of program management (i.e., planning, developing, promoting, coordinating, controlling, or evaluating operating programs of the employing organization or of other organizations subject to regulation or other controls).  Some of these employees are classified in occupations that reflect these functions (e.g., program analyst) but many are classified in subject matter occupations.

(c)    General management, business, or supporting services.  This element brings into the administrative category a wide variety of specialists who provide general management, business, or other supporting services as distinguished from production functions.  Administrative employees in this category provide support to line managers by:  (1) providing expert advice in specialized subject matter fields, such as that provided by management consultants or systems analysts; (2) assuming facets of the overall management function, such as safety management, personnel management, or budgeting and financial management; (3) representing management in such business functions as negotiating and administering contracts, determining acceptability of goods or services, or authorizing payments; or (4) providing supporting services, such as automated data processing, communications, or procurement and distribution of supplies.  To warrant exemption, each employee’s work must involve substantial discretion on matters of enough importance that the employee’s actions and decisions have a noticeable impact on the effectiveness of the organization advised, represented, or serviced.

(d)   Participation in the functions of a management official.  This element includes those employees (variously identified as secretaries, administrative or executive assistants, aids, etc.) who participate in portions of the managerial or administrative functions of a supervisor whose scope of responsibility precludes personally attending to all aspects of the work.  To support exemption, such assistants must be delegated and exercise substantial authority to act for the supervisor in the absence of specific instructions or procedures.  Typically these employees do not have technical knowledge of the substantive work under the supervisor’s jurisdiction.  Their primary knowledge is of administrative procedures, organizational relationships, and the policies, plans, interests and views of the supervisor.

(e)    Work of an intellectual nature.  Work requiring general intellectual abilities, such as perceptiveness, analytical reasoning, perspective, and judgment applied to a variety of subject matter fields, or work involving mental processes which involve substantial judgment based on considering, selecting, adapting, and applying principles to numerous variables.  The employee cannot rely on standardized application of established procedures or precedents, but must recognize and evaluate the effect of a continual variety of conditions or requirements in selecting, adapting, or innovating techniques and procedures, interpreting findings, and selecting and recommending the “best” alternative from among a broad range of possible actions.

(f)    Work of a specialized or technical nature.  Work which requires substantial specialized knowledge of a complex subject matter and of the principles, techniques, practices, and procedures associated with that subject matter field. This knowledge characteristically is acquired through considerable on-the-job training and experience in the specialized subject matter field, as distinguished from professional knowledge characteristically acquired through specialized academic education.

(g)   Discretion and independent judgment.  The exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves:  (1) comparing and evaluating possible courses of conduct, and (2) interpreting results or implications, and independently taking action or making a decision after considering the various possibilities.  However, firm commitments or final decisions are not necessary to support exemption.  The “decisions” made as a result of the exercise of independent judgment may consist of recommendations for action rather than the actual taking of action.  The fact that an employee’s decisions are subject to review, and that on occasion the decisions are revised or reversed after review, does not mean that the employee is not exercising discretion and independent judgment of the level required for exemption.

The FPM letter lists three elements involved in the evaluation of discretion and independent judgment:  (1) The work must involve sufficient variables as to regularly require discretion and judgment in determining the approaches and techniques to be used, and in evaluating results.  This precludes exempting employees who perform work primarily requiring skill and applying standardized techniques or knowledge of established procedures, precedents, or other guidelines which specifically govern the employee’s action.  (2) The employee must have authority to make such considerations during the course of assignment.  This precludes exempting trainees who are in a line of work which requires discretion but who have not been given authority to decide discretionary matters independently.  (3) The decisions made independently must be significant.  Although this term is not so restrictive as to include only the kinds of decisions made by employees who formulate policies or exercise broad commitment authority, it does not extend to the kinds of decisions that affect only the procedural details of the employee’s own work, or to such matters as deciding whether a situation does or does not conform to clearly applicable criteria.

The claimant’s work in doing criminal investigations did not meet paragraph (a) of the administrative exemption criteria.  His primary duty was not to serve as an advisor, assistant, or representative of agency management, or as a specialist in a management or general business function or supporting service.  As a criminal investigator, the claimant spent all of his time investigating criminal violations of various laws governing income tax evasion.

The claimant did not meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of the administrative exemption criteria as his duties did not significantly affect the formulation or execution of management policies or programs.  As a field office employee assigned to duty stations within the Newark District Office, he performed the line investigative work of the IRS’s Criminal Investigations Division.  As such, he did not make policy decisions or participate indirectly through developing proposals that were acted on by others.  In addition, unlike administrative employees, he did not perform any phases of program management such as planning, controlling, or evaluating operating programs.

The claimant did not meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(2) of the administrative exemption criteria.  The claimant’s primary duties did not involve general management or business functions or supporting services of substantial importance to the organization serviced.  Rather, the claimant performed the line law enforcement investigative work of the IRS.  His tasks did not include providing general management, business, or other supporting services to line managers.  He was not involved in systems analysis or general management support functions, e.g., safety management, personnel management, or budgeting and financial management.  The claimant did not represent agency management in negotiating and administering contracts for goods or services, and did not provide support services, e.g., automated data processing, communications, procurement and distribution of supplies.

The claimant did not meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(3) of the administrative exemption criteria.  His assignments did not involve substantial participation in the executive or administrative functions of a management official.  He did not act as a secretary or administrative assistant participating in portions of the managerial or administrative functions of a supervisor, with no requirement for technical knowledge of the substantive work under the supervisor’s jurisdiction.  Unlike such employees, the claimant independently performed the line work of IRS’s Criminal Investigations Division in a field office requiring technical knowledge of substantive law enforcement and criminal investigative work relating to income tax evasion.

Under paragraph (b)(1) of the administrative exemption criteria, the claimant performed office non-manual work which was intellectual and varied in nature.  In carrying out a variety of criminal investigations concerning violations of numerous tax laws and regulations administered by IRS, the claimant applied perceptiveness, analytical reasoning, and judgment based on considering, selecting, adapting, and applying criminal investigative principles to numerous variables.  In doing so, he determined the best approach to each case and investigative techniques needed to substantiate it.  These included interviews of subjects and witnesses, and reviews of business and bank records, to develop and gather the most supportable evidence for presentation to an AUSA to identify the violation and assess the scope of the illegal activity.  While as a law enforcement agent he was required to abide by specific laws and IRS procedures governing the methods and collection of evidence and circumstances supporting seizures and arrests, in developing criminal cases he considered the effect of alternative investigative methods, adapting techniques and procedures as appropriate to the nature and extent of the violation.

Under paragraph (b)(2) of the administrative exemption criteria, the claimant’s work as a senior criminal investigator was highly specialized and technical in nature, requiring considerable special training, experience, and knowledge.  He possessed and regularly applied specialized knowledge of the complex subject-matter field of Federal criminal investigation, including the laws, principles, techniques, practices, and investigative procedures associated with that field.  This knowledge was acquired through regular and extensive formal IRS in-service training, including attending the Treasury Law Enforcement and Special Agent schools, a course in “undercover” operations at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and considerable on-the-job training and experience with the Criminal Investigations Division, as well as training received while employed at previous agencies, i.e., FBI.

Under paragraph (c) of the administrative exemption criteria, the claimant frequently exercised discretion and independent judgment in performing investigations under only general supervision in carrying out his normal day-to-day work.  In doing so, he developed and expanded investigations, comparing and evaluating possible courses of action and necessary investigative techniques to efficiently utilize resources and achieve the goals of each investigation in proving that the elements of a crime had been committed.  He interpreted results gathered from investigative lead information (e.g., suspects, witnesses, informants, bank, and business records) and made decisions on subsequent investigative steps after considering the various possibilities.  Since many of his cases involved numerous variables in terms of the investigative procedures needed because of the scope and complexity of the violation, he regularly applied discretion and judgment in determining approaches and techniques, and in evaluating results.  As a GS-13 criminal investigator, the claimant had full authority to make such determinations during the course of investigations, consulting with his group manager only on the status of cases or need for additional resources.  His investigative decisions were more significant than just making decisions on procedural details, or deciding whether a situation conformed to clearly applicable criteria.  Although he had to follow specific legal requirements for gathering and admitting evidence, requesting search warrants and subpoenas, and worked closely with the AUSA in preparing evidence for prosecution or presentation before a Federal grand jury, he independently made decisions on significant matters affecting case development.  This included identifying the most effective investigative techniques and processes to build a thorough and comprehensive investigation supportable before a Federal court.

Although the claimant’s position met paragraphs (b) and (c) of the administrative exemption criteria, it failed to meet all of the required exemption criteria because it did not meet paragraph (a) of the criteria.  Therefore, we conclude the claimant did not meet the administrative exemption.

Decision

The claimant’s work was nonexempt (i.e., covered by the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA), and he is entitled to compensation for all overtime hours worked at the FLSA overtime rate for the period of the claim he was improperly designated as FLSA exempt (i.e., from August 2, 1985, to December 14, 1991), less his active duty military service time from October 1, 1990, to October 12, 1990, and November 5, 1990, to November 16, 1990.  Since his previous FLSA settlement covers a time period subsequent to December 14, 1991, it is not germane to the overtime pay calculations for the period of the claim covered by this decision.  The agency must follow the compliance requirements on page ii of this decision.

The claimant must submit evidence showing the amount and extent of overtime that was performed as provided for in 5 CFR 551.706(a).  The agency will have the opportunity to review this evidence using any other sources of information available, including witnesses, before a determination is made as to whether the claimant is entitled to any back pay under the FLSA and any interest as required under 5 CFR part 550, subpart H. [3]  Any petition for attorney’s fees and expenses must be submitted to the agency out of which this claim arose.  Should the claimant be determined to be entitled to back pay which the claimant believes to be incorrectly computed, the claimant may file a new FLSA claim with this office.


[1] B & L provided copies of the claimant’s “Request and Authorization for Active Duty Training/Active Duty Tour (AF Form 938)” which confirm these periods of military active duty.

[2] In its administrative report to OPM, the agency indicated it was unable to locate the appellant’s position description (PD) of record (#03308) during the claim period.  However, the claimant provided a copy of a standard PD (#90336E) to which he believed he was assigned during the claim period which describes typical GS-13 level case work comparable to his investigations.  Nevertheless, his Notifications of Personnel Actions (SF 50) in the record covering the claim period do not show him assigned to this PD. 

[3]The agency’s overtime and interest calculations must account for the claimant’s prior receipt of administratively uncontrollable overtime, documented as “Premium Pay” in his pay records during the claim period, using the principles contained with 29 U.S.C. 207(k), 5 CFR 551.501(a)(1) and (5), and 5 CFR 551.541(a).  See OPM’s Fact Sheet on the topic at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-administration/fact-sheets/guidance-on-applying-flsa-overtime-provisions-to-law-enforcement-employees-receiving-administratively-uncontrollable-overtime-pay/.

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