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A Case Study in Tech Worker Misclassification: Was Edward Snowden Eligible for Overtime Pay at Booz Allen?

While whistle blowing is considered the highest of callings by the civic-minded and scrupulous, when a contracted tech worker named Edward Snowden released highly classified information to the public, it generated conflicting feelings for many in an era where secrecy, particularly when it comes to national security and terrorism, has grown more acceptable to the American public.

I have strong opinions on this whole episode and tend to pour over the latest reporting every morning.  Recently, however, something caught my eye that lead to a long digression.  In a recent article, it was reported that Edward Snowden held a position with Booz Allen that, industry-wide, is often misclassified as overtime exempt when, more often than not in the experience of our firm, such positions are properly classified as overtime eligible.  As a “system administrator” he may have been eligible for overtime wages under the FLSA, as are many other tech workers. ‘  In fact, many “systems administrators,””technical support specialists,” “IT and network engineers,” “systems specialists,” etc., are actually eligible pay regardless of whether or not the position is high paying, involves a salary or requires special skill.  Basically, the only duties which consistently result in a designation of FLSA exempt – or ineligible for overtime pay – and which also withstand legal scrutiny involve programming and high-level network design.

So, should Snowden have been payed overtime wages while digging up dirt on the NSA? Shortly before Snowden blew the whistle on NSA monitoring practices and fled the U.S., Booz Allen wasted no time seeking a potential replacement for Snowden, issuing a job posting on the company website. While the posting has led many to believe that Booz Allen was planning to terminate Snowden even before the scandal outbreak, it has also given the public a look into Snowden’s former job description.

Though intelligence officials have described Snowden as a “systems administrator,” Snowden has revealed that his actual title was “infrastructure analyst.” As an infrastructure analyst (a position almost identical in nature to the posted “Information Security Engineer” opening), Snowden’s listed job duties included the development, operation, and maintenance of various security systems. Although some sources indicate that Snowden was compensated a grand sum of $200,000.00 a year, Booz Allen did not require that he posses a college degree, nor was advanced experience beyond one to three years a prerequisite.

Many contractors and companies will misclassify tech workers as “computer employees” under the FLSA to avoid paying overtime wages. Regardless of title and pay, there are requirements that must be met for a tech position to qualify under this overtime exemption.

If Snowden was actually working on projects requiring advanced techniques, procedures, development, and analysis, he would have qualified as an exempt computer employee under the FLSA. However, if Snowden’s duties consisted mainly of routine system maintenance or analyzing, troubleshooting, and testing equipment, he may have been overtime eligible.  I must say, if he was performing “maintenance,” even if his salary was high, he may very well have been overtime eligible.  However, if he was truly “developing” and “operating” larger networks or systems rather than just repairing him, he likely was not eligible for overtime pay.

Techies: even if you were hired as a “computer employee,” if you not regularly assigned intellectually stimulating or highly advanced tasks, you may be misclassified. If you work as a tech employee in NY, NJ, or LI and believe that you may be misclassified, contact an attorney with expertise in wage and hour laws under the FLSA.

Christopher Davis is an experienced employment litigator specializing in class actions, overtime wage recovery, discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and Wall Street bonus disputes. Before entering private practice, Mr. Davis served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office where he prosecuted violent crimes as a member of the Sex Crimes Unit.

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