my manager is nickeling and diming me on vacation time while I’m working 27 days in a row

A reader writes:

Each January, my job requires that I work 3.5 weekends in a row, Saturday and Sunday, out of town. (I have a regular, 8-5, Monday-Friday job and I continue this schedule while traveling.) These weekend events are 12-hour days, plus the travel time to the cities on Friday and Sunday evenings. My job has a good amount of travel, but this is the only time of year when I am gone all weekend for multiple weekends in a row.

After my first year, when I was non-exempt and paid overtime for the weekend, I worked with my supervisor to move to an exempt position. (It got me a raise and now the flex hours/overtime for the weekends away isn’t an issue.) This year, in the middle of my 27-days-on month, I took one day off. When it came time to submit my hours, I didn’t count the day. My supervisor asked me to change the record to be sick or vacation time. I did change it and the whole thing was cordial. He said I could be fired and he could be fired for lying. I said that he was the only supervisor I knew who would have me count a day in the middle of a 27-day stretch of working.

It is my impression that exempt means if you’re working so much (in this case, more than 70 hours per week, which is a lot in my field) that you need a day off, even in the middle of a M-F work week, it is up to supervisor discretion whether you count it as paid leave. My supervisor doesn’t have this take and believes that exempt or not, you’re in your seat from 8-5, M-F no matter what hours you work. In his defense, he follows his rules himself. I just think this is a strange approach and terrible for work/life balance. So, who is right?

Based on common sense and principles of good management, you’re right. But there’s no law or other rule that says that; ultimately it’s up to individual employers to decide how they want to handle this type of thing. Many employers handle it reasonably, because they understand that when someone is working 27 days in a row, you don’t nickel and dime them if they want a day off. But plenty of other employers do stick to really rigid paid leave policies and insist that any time off from days you’d otherwise be expected to be at work counts against your leave balance, no matter what kind of grueling hours you’re working.

You’re apparently working for the latter. Or at least your manager is that type; your company as a whole might not be.

You could try saying this to your manager: “The way I see this, I’m putting in an enormous amount of extra time this month — by my count, X hours over the last few weeks, with no weekend and no break. Because I’m exempt, I don’t receive additional pay for that time. When my work schedule permits me to take a day off in the middle of what would otherwise be 27 straight days of work, I’d like to be able to do that without losing a vacation day. After all, I’m losing 7 weekend days this month, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to to have one day in the middle of this very intensive period when I otherwise don’t even have weekends. Could we think of it as me taking my normal Saturday on a Tuesday instead?”

Frankly, you could even say, “My understanding that part of the trade-off for being exempt is that while I don’t earn overtime pay when I’m working extra hours, I have some flexibility in how I manage my time.” This isn’t required by law, but it could be useful to frame it that way for a manager who’s such a stickler about doing things by the book.

If your manager still refuses after this, he’s incredibly short-sighted. This is the kind of thing that messes with people’s loyalty toward their employers and disincentives them from going out of their way or putting in extra time when it’s optional.

{ 137 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    Yeah, I vote trying to make it your “in lieu of” weekend day. Maybe your manager wants to do the right thing but doesn’t think he’s allowed?

    You can also point out that even for exempt government professionals, we generally get comp time, credit hours, or overtime if we work past 40 hours a week. So if I worked 8 hours on a weekend, that’s 8 hours I’ve logged that I can take as regular leave another time. It’s a very fair system.

    1. tesyaa*

      This is unusual in the private sector, I think. We only get comp time if we work on company holidays, and only if we’re working on urgent deliverables (i.e. we can’t decide to work on Labor Day just because we want a vacation day on a different day).

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Oh. Well, another point for government employment. To clarify – in most cases we don’t just get to bank time – you actually have to working on something important (I had one of my employees try to pull that – what exactly were you doing here all weekend???)

        1. Emily*

          I cherished the two places I worked with bankable comp time for exactly this reason. It was my first couple of jobs where I only got 2 weeks a year of PTO and a very low salary but was exempt, so I loved being able to earn extra vacation days to make it a better deal.

          One of the great ways I used this to my advantage would be to stay 1-2 hours later for a couple of weeks before a vacation, or put in 1-day weekend days before a vacation – I would use the extra time to work ahead on things that would be due during my vacation and get them all finished early, and then the extra 8-12 hours I’d banked in comp time meant I could take off the whole day of my afternoon flight instead of working a half-day before rushing to the airport, and I could take the day after my trip off so that I could properly unpack and decompress instead of landing late at night and showing up to work tired first thing the next morning. To me that sort of thing was exactly the spirit of comp/flex time – rearranging the same amount of work into a more pleasing schedule that keeps deliverables on schedule.

      2. Liz in a Library*

        I think it depends a lot on the company. I was exempt in my last two companies, and both would allow comp days when I’d work significant extra hours (like a full weekend day).

      3. HR Manager*

        Depends on the company for sure. I worked for a big financial firm that for a period required a lot of travel. The managers ended up offering comp time to the employee to make sure for lost weekends. But it was required that this be explicitly asked for and granted – I would never make an assumption that not showing up on a work day was ok, even if I have been working my tail off.

        1. sunny-dee*

          It’s a little manager-dependent where I am, but most managers just want a heads-up — if you worked the weekend and want off the next Friday, just let them know first. They don’t make you go through a formal approval for it.

    2. tesyaa*

      Also, I don’t see how this would work in non-government jobs where people often work 60 or even 80 hours per week.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        My point was just that she might try explaining how things work in other places – to let him know that flexibility isn’t that uncommon.

        I’ve often worked 60-80 hours a week as well. The reality was that I banked a lot of comp time I never got to use, but I probably could have if I’d really tried.

        1. NJ Anon*

          In New Jersey, comp time for exempt employees is a no-no. The idea is you are paid one salary to do your job regardless of the time it takes. Giving an exempt employee comp time means you are compensating them for working more than 40 hours per week, so they could lose that exempt status and the company could be forced to go back and pay overtime and/or get fined.

          1. Zillah*

            This doesn’t make sense to me – I thought that whether a company chose to give exempt employees extra money/time for working longer hours was up to them. So, not required, but not penalized, either. Am I totally misunderstanding?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In general, exempt employees may be given comp time if the employer wants to (although there is no legal requirement to do so). I’m not familiar with the NJ law — NJ Anon, can you point us to it?

              1. Elysian*

                I agree, I work in this area of law but I’ve never heard of a policy like this. As Katie the Fed mentioned, federal law actually requires overtime or comp time for exempt (even salaried) federal employees after 40 hours in a week. Comp time, or even extra payment for work over 40 hours in a week, isn’t something that would normally disrupt exempt status. Is there a NJ law you could point us to that specifies something different?

                1. Judy*

                  Not in NJ, but I’ve been in situations where they had a huge push to get a project out the door, and to encourage us, they’d give us overtime (straight hourly rate) for hours over 50 in a week.

          2. Mike B.*

            I suspect there’s a kernel of truth to this somewhere, but it was distorted before it was passed on to you. If this were the case, it would be a horrific unintended consequence of a policy meant to protect the rights of workers (when those rights are already protected by fairly clear definitions of “exempt” and “nonexempt”).

            But as Zillah and others said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even in a country as unfriendly to labor as the United States, a policy that allows employers to demand virtually unlimited labor from their salaried employees but *forbids* them to offer comp time is a little much to believe–even employers would protest that, since it would drive the best employees to work in neighboring states.

            And if the OP continues to meet with resistance on this matter, I hope she finds a new job, as this is asinine. It brings to mind a letter from a while ago (maybe two years? Time moves fast) from someone who was docked half a vacation day when she slept late on Monday after working an entire weekend without sleeping at the last-minute request of her boss.

        1. Marcy*

          Absolutely. I am in state government and I put in 10+ hours a day Mon-Fri and then some hours on the weekend depending on what still needs to be done. I do not get overtime/comp time or anything else to compensate. A lot of positions have been cut over the years as people retire or quit and aren’t replaced. This is just the new reality of public sector work. I never had to do this in the private sector but my husband does so I know it is common there, too.

  2. Iro*

    I worked in a place that took the “You are in your seat from 8am – 5pm M-F” approach regardless of exempt status or overtime accrued. Let’s just say that they had a ridiculously high attrition rate. I don’t believe any of the senior managers I worked with (just 1.5 years ago) are still there now.

    1. Iro*

      Also in that same job my supervisor would log in and take fractions of an hour (yes fractions) out of my PTO if I called in to say I was running late or needed to leave early for the day. She refused to let me flex that time, even when I pointed out that I typically worked 45 – 55 hours a week, and even on the weeks when I did arrive 5 minutes late (due to car accidents usually) or had to leave early that I still exceeded 8 hours in the office for the day. My favorite when she took out 0.0833 hours of PTO on me the day I arrived at 8:03.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        With an attitude like theirs, I’m surprised you ever worked more than 40.000 hours after the first week.

        1. Iro*

          LOL yeah.

          True story, I ended up getting promoted a few month’s later. Most of that supervisors issues with me were performance based, as in she was having trouble being outperformed by her “direct report”.

          It’s too bad because in general I approach each job as “It’s my job to make my boss look great!”

      2. Cheesecake*

        Whaaaaat? Seriously? Some people just love to show “who is the boss”.
        I also noticed it comes “in a package”; at my first job we did not have paid overtime, but i did at least 60 hours instead of 40 (best case). Not because i loved sitting there, but because there was so much work that needed to be done. Yet, when i came 5 mins late the day after i left office at 11pm, my boss gave me a look and her boss noted i was lucky our director did not see me. Needless to say we had crappy salaries and no benefits.

        1. Denise*

          OMG! What a disgrace. I just tweeted the US Dept of Labor…I’m all for increasing minimum wage, but how about increasing the pay for professionals who have education, skills and experience? No comment…

      3. Lia*

        I worked with a supervisor (not over me, thankfully) who was like that. He monitored his report’s comings and goings to the minute.Our time logs did not even allow for deducting time in less than quarter hour increments, although he tried (and failed) to get the reports to code their “late arrivals” of 2-5 minutes as vacation time.

        1. Denise*

          Wth is wrong with these managers, companies…and our country!? This is exactly demoralizing employees and treated with disrespect, being minimalized and unappreciated. Some companies treat employees like slaves and rigged so the jobs require so many hours…never finish your job, so…don’t qualify for a raise or a in constant frustration!

      4. Scott*

        OMG, I thought I was the only person to whom this has happened. I had a job where I was considered exempt but made to punch a time clock. If I worked 12 hours I was paid for 8, but if I worked 7.99 I was only paid for 7.99. Needless to say, I didn’t last there very long.

        Now I’m in a place that’s performance based. I get my work, and am given a due date and it’s up to me to manage my time and get the job done, and to involve my manager when there are issues beyond my control that might interfere with the timeline.

        1. Chuchundra*

          That’s actually illegal. They can take your PTO, because PTO isn’t really covered in the FLSA, although some states do have good rules about it, but they do have to pay you your full salary.

          1. Natalie*

            You can also dock in full day increments, but that of course requires the exempt employee actually be *gone* for the full day.

        2. Cheesehead*

          Yeah, I worked for a company like that too. We were exempt, but we had to punch a timeclock. Then the owner really stuck his foot in it when he said “And if you work extra one day it doesn’t mean you can take off early the next day. I don’t care if you work 12 hours on Monday; if you don’t work your 8 hours on Tuesday, your pay is getting docked!”

          I don’t believe that’s legal. I would have LOVED for someone to explain the law to him, but he was a jerk with a lot of self-importance and not much regard for anyone who wasn’t him.

          BAD company. So happy I got out.

      5. Former QA, Current SAHM*

        I had a job like this, exempt, salaried, where I typically put in 45 hours a week. We were required to take our sick and vacation time in 2 hour increments, so if I was 15 minutes late, I’d be charged 2 hours vacation time. (If I didn’t have time banked, the hours would be taken from my paycheck — and yes, I know that’s illegal.)

        1. Desdemona*

          It’s a funny thing, I started out in life fairly conservative, because I believed people are basically honest and employers would recognize it was in their best interest to keep their employees feeling that they were being tarred fairly. I laugh at my naivete now, but this issue was my first clue there are people who consider only their immediate advantage. I’m a much stronger believer now in sane workplace regulations, now that it’s clear they’re not propaganda designed to foment class envy after all. With so many employers playing this “heads I win talks you lose” game even though it’s not legal, how much worse would things be without these laws??

      6. Denise*

        OMG! What a disgrace. I just tweeted the US Dept of Labor…I’m all for increasing minimum wage, but how about increasing the pay for professionals who have education, skills and experience? No comment…

  3. TeapotCounsel*

    I’m having trouble reconciling the advice with this excerpt from a DOL fact sheet:
    An employer must pay an exempt employee the full predetermined salary amount “free and clear” for any week in which the employee performs any work without regard to the number of days or hours worked. However, there is no requirement that the predetermined salary be paid if the employee performs no work for an entire workweek. Deductions may not be made from the employee’s predetermined salary for absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the employee is ready, willing, and able to work, deductions may not be made for time when work is not available. Salary deductions are generally not permissible if the employee works less than a full day. Except for certain limited exceptions found in 29 C.F.R. 541.602(b)(1)-(7), salary deductions result in loss of the section 13(a)(1) exemption.

    Am I missing something?

      1. TeapotCounsel*

        That is it. Reading further on the DOL site:
        An employer can substitute or reduce an exempt employee’s accrued leave (or run a negative leave balance) for the time an employee is absent from work, even if it is less than a full day and even if the absence is directed by the employer because of lack of work, without affecting the salary basis payment, provided that the employee still
        receives payment equal to the employee’s predetermined salary in any week in which any work is performed even if the employee has no leave remaining.

        Even so, OP’s management is being obnoxious.

        1. Anna*

          We just had a giant talking to about this where I work. It’s so obnoxious. I’m trying to pretend it’s because our clients never leave and our facility is always open, but it just feels nit-picky.

        1. Emily*

          Yep. OP’s pay isn’t being affected, just their benefits, and all benefits are considered optional and offered at the company’s sole discretion (unless you have a written contract guaranteeing otherwise).

  4. BRR*

    This is a great way to build employee morale.

    Now the not sarcastic part of the comment, people need to stop thinking of exempt as only minimum 40 hours a week. I got back from a conference late at night, my boss let me come in an hour late the next day. My parents were coming in from out of town, I got to leave 30 min early. We are overloaded with work, I worked two hours at night.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I think I agree with what you’re saying. Exempt means that you don’t get paid overtime. Financially it is the best interest of the business to only do this for people they expect to work more than the standard 40 hours a week. I would think the exempt employees should not expect exacty a 40 hour work and that they’re more likely to average more than 40+ hours rather than less.

      Morale-wise, though, it does really seem like the LW got nickled and dimed. I would have asked about comp time/days off in the middle of the week before I started working 27 days in a row. That kind of tradeoff is why the being exempt is good for the employee too as Alison mentioned in her response.

      1. kozinskey*

        Yeah, I’m curious why a discussion about comp time wasn’t a part of the conversation when OP moved to being exempt. I would say it’s time for a conversation about it now.

      2. BRR*

        I think maybe the rule should be aim for 40, but if you want more than 40 consistently you need to be a little flexible.

      3. Elysian*

        Just to be a little nit-picky (though its an important detail): It doesn’t matter what is in the best interest of the business, because the business doesn’t make a choice about exempt/non-exempt status. They don’t “do this for people” – you are either exempt from receiving overtime under the law, or you are not exempt.

        That said, I entirely agree with you. For the most part one of the social conventions of being an exempt employee is that you get a little more flexibility with your time – you don’t have to be a clock watcher one way or the other (little more leeway to work both over and under the standard number of hours).

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I work for a company that is really flexible– and we are all capable of working remotely. This is becoming the norm for many of my peers, and I’m glad about that. If I travel and work over a weekend, I feel perfectly comfortable telling my boss that I’ll either work from home or come in late on Monday. I recently worked until about 9pm several nights in a row, albeit from home, and I didn’t go in on Friday. It’s a great way to build morale and avoid a ton of problems. I’m exempt, my baseline is 40 hours, but I usually work more than that one week, less than that the next, and if I were to continuously work 27 days in a row, I would likely talk to my boss about taking a day and do it “off the books”. This nickel-and-diming is just really strange to me.

      1. August*

        +1. I work as an exempt employee in a job where ideally I should be at work most of the time (computer hardware lab). When we work long hours, we feel no guilt taking an afternoon off or leave couple of hours early after the demanding task is completed. My manager is big on work-life balance. She keeps track of days when we have to come on weekends and gives us comp off. No wonder she has a happy team with most people working in for her for 5+ years.

  5. Meg Murry*

    Is this the same supervisor who helped you move to the exempt position? Did you get any extra vacation days when you moved up?

    While I agree with you that this is silly and petty, is it possible for you to negotiate with your supervisor for an extra week of vacation or personal days, in order to offset this requirement that you count every M-F as either a working day, a sick day or a vacation day? If not for this year, since that it past, but for next?

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      that’s essentially what we do, we just do it under the table. Say I was off on Tuesday but worked on Saturday, I still mark a duty day for Tuesday and leave saturday blank. No one ever checks that kind of stuff here.

      1. NotMyRealName*

        That’s exactly what I was told to do when I was traveling for a conference that ran over a weekend.

  6. Van Wilder*

    I work for a professional services firm where we have to enter timesheets (but are exempt). Often, if we have to work a weekend but take a day off during the same week, we are allowed to shift our hours from the weekend to the weekday to avoid using a vacation day. This is not official policy but most reasonable managers allow it. It’s not like if we work three weekends in a row, we get six extra vacation days, but it’s something. We also officially get to take holidays later if we work holidays.

    1. Elysian*

      “We also officially get to take holidays later if we work holidays.”
      Oh, my President’s Day weekend really wishes that this were the policy at my company.

  7. TotesMaGoats*

    Oh sweet mercy. What level of hell has you working 27 days in a row? AAM is spot on but I would add that if your boss doesn’t agree this might be a time to go to HR. If he’s operating under wrong information, you could clarify that for him and help out your colleagues in the same boat. If he’s enforcing a personal policy that goes against corporate policy, you might make an enemy but he could “probably be fired for breaking company policy”.

    I hope you get a break soon.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If I worked 27 days straight, I would question my ability to operate a motor vehicle, probably around day 21. You end up in court because of a ticket/charge, the judge will just say “you should have told your employer that you were too tired to drive”. The law is not very sympathetic at times.

      1. Sascha*

        Me too! At the start of January, we had some major system issues that had me working about 14-15 days straight. I hated it and by the time the third weekend rolled around and my boss hinted at working it again, I just flat out said no.

    2. Jake*

      The beginning of the fourth week is when i used to start becoming loopy. I’d do things I’d normally never do, I’d drive way too fast, and I started becoming extremely agreeable to everything, which is the opposite of how I normally am.

      I did several 30+ day stretches (one stretch of 59 12s in 60 days), and it is dangerous for the worker and anybody that comes in contact with them.

      The company implemented a no more than 7 days in a row policy shortly before I left. The exempt folks celebrated while the hourly folks complained. They even filed a union grievance stating they didn’t collectively bargain those limits, so they shouldn’t be allowed. They lost on safety grounds.

      It just shows how radically different mindsets people have based on their circumstances.

  8. TOC*

    I think it’s worth pointing out that even if you’re taking one day off in the middle of the week, you’re still working, say, 62 hours that week, which is far above the 40ish hours it sounds like you work in a more typical week. You could even present this on a monthly scale: “I worked about 250 hours in January, and in most months I work about 180. Given that, I’m wondering if it’s really necessary for my vacation time to be docked for the eight hours I took off this month on a weekday.”

    Yes, you’re working a very different schedule than you usually might–but that flexibility is part of being exempt, as Alison points out. It often benefits the company, but it’s fair (though not required) for it to work in your favor sometimes, too.

  9. soitgoes*

    How are days off handled during other times of the year? I agree that it’s foolish to dock an exempt employee for taking a needed day off, but I wonder if the job is somewhat contingent upon always being there during this one busy month. If there is a verbal or written agreement to this effect, I can understand where this misunderstanding is coming from, and the OP might need to plan on addressing this if she speaks with her manager again.

    1. Helka*

      Honestly, I kind of feel like a job setup where they absolutely need one particular person to be in the office without any break for 27 days straight is a job setup that needs to be rethought. It’s not good planning.

      1. soitgoes*

        That’s true, but I’ve also had jobs where there was just one stretch of time every year where things predictably got very busy. That’s not something that an employer can control, and it often feels like a perk later on when things slow down and the employees are still making their full exempt pay. Some products/services just inspire that type of market. It wouldn’t necessarily be poor planning if the OP had just been allowed to take the Tuesday off without treating her like a child.

    2. Cheesecake*

      If it is as busy as OP describes AND physical presence is necessary, employer should at least hire temporary help

  10. CAinUK*

    The big red flag for me: the employer “helped” move you to an exempt position after you accrued a lot of paid overtime. Did your role substantively change to warrant this? If not, it might run afoul of DOL guidelines (I am making the assumption your initial classification was correct).

    1. Cheesecake*

      My thoughts exactly. This move is a little fishy. I also thought, after reading AAM’s posts, that exempt is tied to the nature of the job, not to wishes of employer or employee. And it seemed to me job did not change. Or am i wrong here?

    2. Anna*

      That’s an excellent point. Having once been exempt and then the DoL looking at how a few jobs at our site were classified, I am now non-exempt along with several other positions.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I read it as the OP moved to a completely different position. But if it’s basically the old position, just now being treated as exempt, that’s a huge red flag.

      1. Judy*

        Well, the OP is still doing the same events during January, so it’s not a completely different job, it has some of the same duties.

      2. OP*

        It is the same job, sort of. It was reclassified and I was bumped two levels/salary bands. Some background: My job title changed but I retained all duties. After I came on, they added another position’s worth of responsibilities to the job I was hired for. Those responsibilities were added to my job profile, making the cases for the salary and title bump.

    4. Gene*

      Were I the OP here and the supervisor pulled this Ricardo Cabeza move on me, I’d go back and figure out if I was in a truly exempt position. If it turned out that I wasn’t (and this sounds like the OP probably isn’t) I’d file for all that back OT, every singly penny of it.

      I’ve worked stretches like that. At a former job, a flood damaged some major lines that crossed a river and we had to chlorinate the sewage. I was on 12 on/12 off (84 hours/week) for 5 weeks; our union contract allowed for 16 hours of OT a week at time and a half, then it jumped to double time; I was getting 120 hours of pay every week for that 5 weeks. I was a zombie after that, but for an extra 10 weeks’ pay, I’d eat brains.

    5. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Yeah, that’s really suspicious.

      Calculate what your actual hourly pay rate would be based on how much time you work, and compare it to what you were making back when you were paid overtime. I wouldn’t be surprised if your company made you “exempt” to cut costs (which is illegal).

  11. anonima in tejas*

    it may be worth while to talk to your boss about comp time and if you can get some additional comp time to be taken later in the year/season when you are less busy at the office to make up for the 27 days in a row. for companies/orgs this is an option, for others it’s not. But I think that it’s worth asking.

  12. Steve G*

    I vote for quitting soon.

    If your job requires travel, my guess it is also a high of a level job that it requires such things as excellent communication skills, above average computer skills, networking skills, etc. etc……….but while they expect you to behave thoroughly like an adult, they are going to treat you like a 2nd grader, giving you points off for attendance.

    Not to mention that working so much HAS to be impacting your health and personal life and home (when do you exercise? When do you do laundry?). That is not a trade off I’d make for someone who doesn’t appreciate it.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. No rush but make a serious effort to find a better job and when you give notice mention that the policy about comp time was just something you couldn’t live with.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think this maybe part of why some people react to travel the way they do. Some companies get out of hand with how much travel they expect from a person. The requests grow out of hand over time. I am thinking of our OP in the last post. I wonder if she sees the potential for that to happen with her work.

  13. Me*

    I thought part of the deal w/ exempt employees is that they’re supposed to get comp time for weekends worked and that sort of thing. Hardly anyone ever actually does it, but I thought it was required to be an option. Also, that any time at work counts as the whole day worked–there’s no deducting for a dentist appt or whatever.

  14. OP*

    Thanks for the response, Alison, and for the comments, all. This makes me feel better. My manager is so “by the book”… for better or worse that sometimes I think I am the one with unreasonable expectations. I try to chalk these situations up to learning experiences for the future, when I am a manager. At this point, my vacation hours are literally water under the bridge, BUT, I think this is a good response:

    “My understanding that part of the trade-off for being exempt is that while I don’t earn overtime pay when I’m working extra hours, I have some flexibility in how I manage my time.”

    I did say something like that to no avail, at the time. I do think it’s best to ignore it it, rather than be too upset about it.

    Also, I work in higher education, so there are many, many offices here (even teams in my larger unit) who are very flexible and not as much like my team.

    1. kozinskey*

      I said this above, but I definitely think it would be reasonable to ask your supervisor to sit down with you and talk about comp time. If you frame it as asking for clarification about their expectations for you, it won’t come off as being upset, and it would give you an opportunity to explain your point of view.

    2. Anna*

      I would still look in the appropriateness of your status, as suggested by CAinUK. Just because you work a lot of hours does not automatically make you exemptable. There are other criteria a position has to meet in order to be classified as exempt.

    3. Cheesecake*

      Oh, sorry OP, “by the book” managers are hardcore. But, speaking about by the book, aren’t there rules about working hours in the US? Here in Europe an employee can’t work more than x hours of overtime and employer must compensate (no matter if overtime is unpaid – if it is, compensation is in hours off duty). I guess manager must monitor this just as strict as your vacation time.

      1. Alter_ego*

        If you find yourself asking “but aren’t there rules about X in the US”, where X is anything related to the rights of workers, I almost guarantee you that the answer is going to be no.

      2. Judy*

        In the US, there is this rule for the non-exempt, the employees that are covered under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act). The employees that are exempt from that act are the ones that would have an issue. There are many exemptions, but it’s mostly management or professional roles.

      3. Cordelia Naismith*

        There are, but they don’t apply to exempt workers. That’s what “exempt” means — you’re exempt from the usual rules about hours/overtime/etc.

        1. Elysian*

          Unless you’re a lawyer! There are all sorts of examples of (unethical) lawyers double-billing clients and ending up billing, for example, 26 hours in a day.

    4. CAinUK*

      Hi OP. I mention this up-thread, but wanted to ask: did your role change at all when you moved to an exempt classification? Because that has a big impact on how to handle this. If everyone just decided to move you to avoid overtime pay but nothing else changed in your job function, it might not be legal anyhow.

      1. OP*

        It is the same job, sort of. It was reclassified and I was bumped two levels/salary bands. Some background: My job title changed but I retained all duties. After I came on, they added another position’s worth of responsibilities to the job I was hired for. Those responsibilities were added to my job profile, making the cases for the salary and title bump.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      What about phrasing it to them like this: if you get all of the work done M-F during this busy stretch you would not be penalized for taking a Saturday or Sunday off during those busy weeks. Plus many employers are fine with employees taking any two days off a week without docking PTO as long as you worked 40 hours (or 60 or 70, as the case may be) that week total.

      Also, are you a contractor who bills to specific clients? Because if so, that might be why your boss is worried. There could be legal issues with billing your client for hours on a Tuesday if you didn’t work all of those hours that day, even if you made it up some other time and didn’t bill for those hours to compensate. The contract would have to specify that that was OK, otherwise it’s possible that shifting hours like this could technically be seen as fraud.

    6. soitgoes*

      Is it possible for you to switch to another team? Or for you to go to the head of the larger organization under the guise of asking for the official policy regarding comp time/PTO? If the other teams aren’t operating the way yours is, it might be problem that needs to be dealt with in an official capacity. I know I would want to know if one of my team managers was enforcing rules that were not on the books and were not applicable to the other employees at the same level/pay grade.

    7. observer*

      I still think you should go to HR to clarify the policy for future refernce. Also, although your manager clealry doens’t understand the concept of morale (or retention, which is actually a potentially HUGE issues), he should understand concepts like basic effectiveness and liability. You might want to point out to him that this kind of work schedule leads to reduced effectiveness by the time you hit acertain point, which negates that “rear in seat” time. (It’s like teachers who are SO into “time on task” that they overlook that if that “time on task” is spent in trying to keep from having a bathroom accident or tearing out your throat from thirst not much learning is happening.) Also, if you were to be involved in an accident or another mis-step because of this schedule, your company wouldn’t lool too good and might possibly be facing a law suit. And, keep in mind that even a suit that can be defended costs the company money.

      1. Chuchundra*

        Yes, I would kick this up the chain and try to find out what the official policy is with respect to comp time and max days worked in a row.

        At my job we’re not allowed to work more than seven days in a row without a 24 hour break unless there are exigent circumstances. Even if your organization doesn’t have such a formal policy, someone higher up in the food chain might want to know that one of their employees is expected to work 27 days in a row without a break.

    8. AdAgencyChick*

      “sometimes I think I am the one with unreasonable expectations.”

      Nope. Not here. My blood is boiling on your behalf. In advertising, during launches (which have similarly insane hours), we routinely shift when hours are reported on timesheets to allow employees who have to work the weekend to get a day off during the week without having to enter PTO against a weekday. A manager who insisted otherwise would quickly find herself with no employees willing to work the weekend (and no employees at all if she forced the issue, because everyone would quit once the launch is over and they actually have time to interview).

      I hope you’re able to negotiate some comp time!

    9. Joey*

      Have your supervisor approve a different schedule for that week. In other words if you’re normally M-F ask him if will approve you to work M-Tu and Thur-Sat for that week. That way you’re not actually scheduled to work wed for that one week and all he did was approve a schedule change for that week.

      It’s semantics, but I bet it might be comforting for your manager to show that you still worked you five 8 hour days and all he did was move them for one week.

  15. Holly*

    My company is a big fan of the “nickle and dime” approach to PTO. It might be legal, but there’s a reason we have a 40% turnover rate. 40%!

    1. Jake*

      In 3 years the old department of 6 that I worked for turned over completely, twice for 4 of the 6 positions.

      It was a combination of abusive senior leadership and 60+ hour weeks.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I worked in an environment like that – along with “stopwatching”, you get high turnover.

        What is truly funny – I worked in a place like that once. With the implementation of phone-answering boxes – you’d get a midnight call “so and so didn’t show up for his shift, we need you to come in” …. no one knows whether you received the call or not. “Oh yeah someone called – but I was away. I came back Sunday afternoon.”

  16. Valkyrie 4 Tube Analog Hod Rod Synth Deity*

    These weekend events are 12-hour days, plus the travel time to the cities on Friday and Sunday evenings.

    So you’re working 12 hours + 12 hours + I dunno call it 2 hours travel time = 24+ hours each weekend, which could be considered only 2 days, but might be considered 3 days, depending.

    If you do this 3 to 5 weeks at a time, that means you’re working 6 to 10 (or maybe 9 to 15) extra days for that period of time.

    I’d definitely ask for a comp day. Maybe even more than one. I’ve seen but never understood companies that have like a 12:1 comp policy: for every 12 hours extra you work, you get 1 hour of comp time. That seems crazy to me; why isn’t the policy 1:1?

    1. Traveller*

      Because if you took 1:1 comp time there would never be a chance to do any work!
      I encounter this for example when family or friends tell my I should get a day off in exchange when I fly international on the weekend.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I don’t follow. We get 1:1 comp time, so if I have to work all weekend I take off two weekdays (usually not in a row, just to make sure S#!+ Gets Done). But then my weekend workdays usually are 6-8 hours, not 12+. Even so, for the OP it would mean 6-8 comp days for the weekends, maybe another few days for the extra travel time…why would that be an issue once their busy season is over? There’s nothing saying they have to take it all at once either.

  17. long time reader first time poster*

    Ugh. I used to work for a company where I had to put in a lot of weekend time and travel to client sites with 18+ hour days, and they wouldn’t compensate for it. It was just expected as part of the wonderful privilege of working for that company.

    I remember having a hellish client that required day trips once a week — first flight out and last flight back, so I’d be leaving my house at 4AM and getting home at 1AM or later. I tried suggesting to the boss that I take the morning following those trips off, and come in later in the day, and I was told “we don’t do comp time here, you need to report on time.” I would literally have less than eight hours between ending one workday and starting the next.

    At least my rate of pay was somewhat reasonable. I worked out that the (salaried) people reporting to me were making less than minimum wage if you calculated how much they made per hour by actual hours worked.

    And they wonder why nobody ever lasted at that place.

    1. Suzanne*

      Yeah, I worked somewhere that required constant overtime (which they conveniently neglected to mention in the interview/hiring process). Even though we were all in professional positions, a few of us were hourly but most were classified as exempt/salaried. At one point, after yet another 6 day work week, 9 hour days, one of my co-workers told me she calculated that she was making, on average, barely above minimum wage. I left, as did several other people. Gee. Wonder why?

    2. Jake*

      Yeah, we were expected to work MTW from 430 pm to 430 am then work RF 6 am to 6 pm about twice a year for concrete placements. With an hour commute, all that meant was a short nap at your desk.

      One guy refused and went home. He was charged a pto day. We were all exempt.

    3. OP*

      I do this regularly as part of my job during week day travel… I do report on time…. and I do almost no work those days after because I figure if they want me to sit in my chair with no rest I can do that.

  18. Emmie*

    The manager was not wrong … yet. In the future, approach your manager ahead of time about this. Ask permission to take the day off without using paid time off because of your work schedule. Although I can see the OP’s viewpoint, the way that the OP initially handled it was presumptuous. Perhaps going back to OP’s manager, apologizing for not asking for permission, and explaining why using PTO this way is warranted would resolve the issue.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah I kind of agree – this is one of those I would have raised before submitting the timsheet. It makes complete sense, but it’s still a good conversation to have so the manager doesn’t think you’re trying to sneak something by him.

      1. brightstar*

        The timing of the request can really make a difference. If it’s not mentioned before the timesheet is submitted, it can seem like trying to sneak something past even if you realize that isn’t the intention.

        I have no problem with employees using their time, but I do expect them to inform me as quickly as possible. I may need to figure out coverage, etc.

    2. OP*

      I would agree, generally, and I did try that in the past. These answers are always or usually ‘no’. For example, I asked if I could go home after an overnight red eye (effectively 27 hour work day where I worked a normal day on the west coast then boarded a plane at 10 pm after evening events) and was told I would have to come into the office after we got off the plane at 11am or take vacation time for the rest of the day. I tend to err on the side of pity now and not asking ahead, but I do suppose this is a mistake.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Oooooh yeah no, don’t do that. The only thing worse than trying to slip something by a manager is doing it because you thought they’d say no. That’s crossing into some seriously shady territory. I do think you’re right on the the issue, but not this approach.

      2. Emmie*

        I agree with Katie the Fed here too. This part of the job sounds so very awful. Perhaps you should decide if this is a deal breaker for you. There are places that would appreciate your dedication and talents. I wish you all the best in dealing with this situation, and figuring out whether you want to stay at your organization in this role.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          When you’ve got enough experience with your new duties to look good on a resume, DTMF.

  19. Random Name*

    This used to annoy me when I worked in public accounting. Accounting firms do the same thing: you work days, nights, weekends sometimes outside of the regular busy season and need to take one day off and they make you take it out of your vacation. You ended up making up for that time off by working additional hours the other days because the work still had to get done by the deadline. It was always annoying to me when inputting my hours for them to see I had worked 50/60 hours and then have to charge 8 hours of vacation on top of that.

  20. Vicki*

    It’s an unfortunate legal loophole that the job cannot dock _pay_ for an exempt employee if said employee has worked during the week, but they can force PTO.

    1. Natalie*

      I believe you can dock pay in full day increments (if the employee was actually absent for a full day).

  21. Purr purr purr*

    I end up with similar situations to this in my job where I go away for long periods of time. Occasionally I get a ‘day off’ because the client isn’t working on that day and I don’t get paid for it, even though I’m not at home. Also, after a long trip, sometimes I just want to take time off but my job makes it extremely hard. They always say, ‘You want two weeks off? Why?’ and seem to forget that with 12 hour days 7 days a week for over a month, I’ve already worked way more hours than they have. So I don’t really have anything useful to add, other than I sympathise with you. Are you in an area that has minimum rest periods defined by law? That might be pretty useful…

  22. Not telling*

    Yes a bad manager can require that someone take a comp day as a vacation day. But what they CAN’T do is claim that the employee can be fired for taking a comp day. Because as AAM says, the law is silent on the issue of comp time for exempt employees. It is up to management and unless the manager can show LW the company handbook that specifically states comp time is not allowed, then the manager is being dishonest–in fact one could argue that the manager is intimidating an employee into using accrued vacation time when in fact they might be eligible for comp time.

    LW should ask their manager or HR to show them the section of the handbook that states comp time is not allowed.

    1. LBK*

      Huh? That’s…definitely not right. The manager is allowed to say no whether it’s in the company’s handbook or not. Even if the company handbook says comp time is possible, it’s questionable at best as to whether it would be illegal for the manager to use their discretion to decline such a request (especially since practically every company policy ever written has included a manager discretion caveat). An employee handbook isn’t a legally binding contract and it rarely holds up in court as such.

  23. letsbereasonable*

    Requiring an employee to use vacation time when he/she has already booked way more than the 40 hours is the great loophole of employment law.

    1. JustNeedCoffee*

      Can you point me directly to that law? We’re having this very discussion ourselves.

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