A common question for schools assessing how to comply with the new overtime exemption rule published by the U.S. DOL is what to do about coaches and athletic trainers in light of the new minimum salary requirement for the executive, administrative and professional exemptions.

For coaches, two exemptions may still apply even if the coach’s salary falls below the new thresholds of $884 per week (starting July 1, 2024) or $1,128 per week (starting January 1, 2025). A coach whose primary job duties are instructing student athletes on topics such as athletic performance, physical health, team concepts, and safety, or designing instructional programs for student athletes or the team as a whole, may qualify for the teaching exemption. Employees who fall under the teaching exemption do not have to be paid on a salary basis or meet the minimum salary level under the regulations.

Coaches might also qualify for the academic administrator exemption of their primary duty consists of academic advising to players or responsibility for administration of an academic department, so long as they also receive a salary equal to the minimum salary for teachers at the same institution.

Athletic trainers are often classified as exempt under the “learned professional” exemption, so long as they have completed four years of pre-professional study and obtained certifications commonly required for their positions. This exemption applies only if an employee meets the salary basis test. However, an athletic trainer whose primary job duties involve instructing students might qualify as exempt under the teaching exemption, which does not have a minimum salary requirement.

Educational institutions should take care to properly manage timekeeping and overtime pay for any athletic department employees who do not fall within one or more of the overtime exemptions. This includes:

  • Maintaining accurate time records on a weekly basis for all employees.
  • Complying with rules related to travel time and on-call time. Travel time compensation requirements are complicated, differentiating between commuting time (not compensable), travel during regular work hours (compensable), and out-of-town travel time on a single day (compensable) or for overnight trips (varies depending on circumstances).
  • Managing work time outside of set hours and off premises, such as after-hours phone calls, text messages, or other remote work.

Athletic departments and HR staff should work closely together to understand, manage, and communicate expectations to staff.