Supreme Court: Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Are Exempt from Overtime Pay Requirements Per FLSA'S Outside Sales Exemption


In a major win for pharmaceutical companies, the Supreme Court has ruled that pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs) are exempt from federal overtime pay requirements under the “outside sales exemption” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The case, Christopher v SmithKline Beecham Corp., DBA GlaxoSmithKline (No. 11-204, Decided June 18, 2012), resolves a conflict between the Second and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal and impacts some 90,000 pharmaceutical sales representatives throughout the United States.

Under the relevant provision of the FLSA’s outside sales exemption, the employee’s primary duty must be making sales. But because of the unique regulatory environment that applies to drug companies, PSRs do not actually sell their employer’s products to physicians. Rather, PSRs meet with physicians and provide information about the benefits and uses of the company’s drugs and other medical products in the hope that the physician will be persuaded to prescribe the products to patients, as medically appropriate. Prescription drugs are then sold by pharmacies that dispense the drugs to individual customers who have a physician’s prescription. Therefore, PSRs do not actually make sales in the usual sense of the word.

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