In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the lazy and lecherous Sir John Falstaff is attacked during
battle, falls to the ground, and feigns his death. Falstaff attempts to justify his act of
cowardice by explaining: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I
have sav’d my life.” By exercising his “discretion” to fake his death, Falstaff
rationalizes that he is free to live to fight another day.
There is little to be lauded in Falstaff’s distorted worldview. Yet, employers may find
something illuminating in Falstaff’s value of “discretion.” Employers can forego paying
minimum wages and overtime compensation if their employees qualify under one of
many exemptions provided for under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or its state
counterparts. The most commonly invoked of these exemptions — the administrative
exemption — requires that employees exercise “discretion and independent judgment” in the performance of their primary job duties.