Santa Claus, The Employee

By: Washington State Employment Law Lawyer Elizabeth L. Van Moppes

Delivering presents to the good little boys and girls all over the world in a single night is hard work. Of course, Santa Claus makes it look easy with his twinkling eyes and merry dimples, magical sleigh, and team of eight tiny flying reindeer. But does that mean he is any less entitled to compensation? Of course not! Let’s just assume that Santa’s employer – the North Pole, obviously – is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). To comply with the law, the North Pole, like any other employer, has to answer certain questions.

First, do Santa’s job duties make his position exempt or non-exempt? There’s no doubt that Santa works more than 40 hours a week during the holiday season. Think of all the letters pouring in from kids across the globe. Think of how much time it takes to figure out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice all year round. This guy sees you when you’re sleeping. He sees you when you’re awake. If Santa’s non-exempt, the North Pole owes him some serious overtime.

Santa may, however, qualify for the administrative exemption. He meets the duties test for this exemption if his primary duty is the performance of office or non‑manual work that is directly related to the management of the North Pole or its general business operations and if his work involves the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.

Is who goes on what list (naughty or nice) a matter of significance for the North Pole? How clean must a child’s bedroom be to earn her a spot on the nice list? How often must she share her toys with her siblings? And what if she tells the truth most, but not all, of the time? Santa necessarily uses his discretion and independent judgment when making these determinations.

Also, to qualify for the administrative exemption, Santa’s primary duty must be office or non-manual work. We know that one night a year, Santa travels from house to house, slides down chimneys, and places presents under trees. This would surely be considered nonexempt, manual work. But Santa does that only one night per year so is it his primary duty? What does he do the rest of the year? Responding to letters from children could qualify as office work, but is that Santa’s primary duty and is it directly related to the running or servicing of the North Pole’s business? If either answer is “No,” Santa may not qualify for the administrative exemption. If Francis, the head elf, handles all of the letters, does Santa spend most of his time in the workshop with the elves, painting toy trains and stitching dresses for dollies? If so, then he is primarily performing manual work and is entitled to overtime.

If Santa’s position is entitled to overtime, then the North Pole also has to analyze his Christmas Eve responsibilities for additional compensation issues, such as making certain he takes his milk-and-cookie breaks and whether they have to pay him for those breaks. Is he on the clock when he’s smoking on the stump of a pipe, or using his cell to check in with Mrs. Claus? Should he be paid for his travel time to and from the North Pole and from rooftop to rooftop?

It doesn’t take three wise men to figure out that an underpaid Santa Claus could put a real damper on the holiday season. Even if you’re not the North Pole, you don’t want to be on the wage-and-hour naughty list. And can you imagine the media interest in a lawsuit filed by Santa Claus? No visions of sugar plums there. Much like Santa, costly wage-and-hour lawsuits keep coming to town, so you may want to check with the Beresford Booth attorney with whom you work or Elizabeth Van Moppes directly for counsel on how best to review and, if necessary, correct your pay practices. Happy holidays!

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