Intern Architect Salary Versus The New Overtime Regulations

Last month the White House and Department of Labor released the new FLSA overtime exemption rules for white collar workers. Effective on December 1, 2016 the majority of salaried employees earning up to $47,476 a year must receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week.

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So what does this have to do with architecture? 

Well, a lot, as it turns out.  

Unfortunately since the challenging combination of low pay and long hours are all too common for architects just starting their careers this will have a direct effect on their employment situation in the United States.

Unpaid overtime is common in the typical workplace and even more so in the architecture field. I discussed this in greater detail in a previous article, Does Working Long Hours Make You A Better Architect?.

Who does this affect?

Here are the complete rules, if you feel like reading through the 500-plus page document, but the key points are:

Effective Date: December 1, 2016. 

Minimum Salary: $913 per week, or $47,476 annually. 

Bonuses and Commissions May Now Be Included: The new rules will allow non-discretionary bonuses, incentive payments and commissions to count for up to 10% of the minimum salary, provided these amounts are paid at least quarterly.

What do architecture interns earn?

According to the 2015 AIA Compensation Survey Salary calculator the average salary for an "Intern 1" is $42,000. This role is defined as: "full-time entry-level intern on the path to licensure with fewer than two years of experience; develops design or technical solutions under the supervision of an architect."

As most recent architecture graduates fall into this category these regulations will have a profound affect on the working hours, salary and hireability of young architects.

Is this a good thing?

On the surface the new rules sound like a good deal for architects starting their careers and could potentially mean the end of long hours and all-nighters. 

However, many critics are pointing out that, "employers are as likely to cut hours, reduce headcount, or make other changes to avoid increased labor costs."

In theory this should force architecture firms to pay their low wage staff overtime or increase their salary to at or above the minimum. Yet since the culture of long hours is so ingrained in architecture education I find it hard to believe this rule will ultimately have its intended results.

While I want to stay optimistic I could see the potential for abuse when it comes to recording hours and truly stating time spent in the office. 

What are my employer's options?

It would be in your best interest to sit down with your supervisor or HR department to see what will happen once the regulations are in place. 

If you happen to fall into the category described above after December 1st, there are really only four options available to you and your employer. 

1. Raise your salary above the $47,476 threshold.

Depending on a variety of factors including your current salary, the office budget, available budget, etc., this may or may not be a viable option. As mentioned above the "Intern 1" role is within 10% of this number, I am hopeful most employers will choose this option and keep the unpaid overtime in place.

2. Pay you time-and-a-half overtime. 

If working overtime is rare in your office this could be a viable option for some firms. However this pay structure is quite rare and I don't believe many offices will opt for this given the difficulty in making a project financially feasible. 

3. Limit your time to 40 hours per week.

Again, depending on the office culture this may already be the norm. However for more rigorous design firms this may be an unlikely option. 

4. Fire you.

Unfortunately this could be a consequence of the new rules. If architecture firms can't make the numbers work they may have to take drastic measures. Do your best to keep your finger on what is happening in the office. If you know job losses are imminent, take the first steps to find replacement employment or make a case for retaining your talent.

Despite the potential downsides I am hopeful these regulations will have a positive effect on architecture salaries for interns and recent graduates. I only wish this pressure came organically from the free market instead of government intervention.  

If you are just starting out on your architecture career and are interested in helpful resources on applications, portfolios and interview preparation see The Complete Package below. 

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

5 Factors Affecting Your Architecture Salary

3 Tips to Get An Architecture Job With No Experience

Does Working Long Hours Make You A Better Architect?.

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

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