why you shouldn’t work off-the-clock

If you’re like a lot of American workers, you’re no stranger to staying late at the office or responding to work emails well into the night. In fact, 81 percent of U.S. salaried employees report that they work outside of their standard work hours, with 29 percent doing it three or more days per week, according to a new survey from Harris Poll.

What’s more, working outside of normal work hours is so ingrained in American workers that a majority of full-time salaried workers in that Harris Poll survey said they would continue to do so even if it were against company policy.

Working off the clock might seem like it should be an employee’s choice; after all, if you’re willing to put in unpaid time to catch up on work, make sure a project goes smoothly or ensure you don’t come in to find 100 emails waiting for you in the morning, why shouldn’t you be allowed to? But there are some really good reasons why you shouldn’t work off the clock.

It’s illegal. First and foremost, if you’re among the majority of people who the law says must be paid overtime, your company would be breaking the law by allowing you to work off the clock. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing that work voluntarily; you can’t waive your right to overtime. And if you just work the overtime anyway and don’t log it, that could get your employer into a lot of trouble later. You would have the legal right to claim back pay and penalties from your employer later on, even if you were “volunteering” the time originally. So letting people work off the clock, even if they want to, is a serious risk for employers.

It gives your employer bad information about what it takes to get your job done. Your manager needs to know what can reasonably be accomplished in your position in 40 hours, in order to make accurate decisions about budgeting, staffing levels and work priorities. If you’re secretly working off the clock and your manager plans your team’s workload around that level of productivity, what’s going to happen if you suddenly decide you don’t want to or can’t put in those extra hours anymore? Furthermore, by working off the clock, you’re potentially making it harder for your manager to increase the staffing on your team, because if all the work is getting done, the company has less incentive to spend money on a new hire.

It’s bad for your coworkers. If the rest of your coworkers are following the law and company policy and not working unauthorized overtime while you’re secretly making an exception for yourself, you’re going to throw off the expectations for everyone. Your manager is likely to wonder why your co-workers aren’t producing at the same levels that you are, and that can ramp up the pressure and stress on them. Plus, it’s going to be really bad for the person who replaces you when you move on at some point. That person will be burdened with an unrealistic workload because you set unrealistic expectations about how much could be done with the time available.

You deserve to be paid. Worker protections have been hard won. People fought – and in some cases even died – for your right to be paid fairly for the time you work. And you have agreed to provide a particular amount of work in exchange for money, not to sign over all your free time to your employer.

If you can’t realistically finish all your work in 40 hours, the solution isn’t to work off the clock and not tell your boss. Instead, in most cases you should talk with your manager about what you can and can’t get done and how you should be prioritizing things. And yes, in reality there are indeed some managers who will tell you to just find a way to get it all done, but good, reasonable managers will want you to raise the issue.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    I was at a college graduation two months ago where one of the speaker’s main pieces of inspirational advice was to “come in an hour early, stay an hour late, and don’t charge your employer for it.” *internally screaming*

      1. Dan*

        Well, an employer of exempt staff. The advice as given is a bit weird — in a position where the employee is exempt, there’s really no way to charge the employer for it. (There are exceptions… my last professional job paid by the hour, so everything I logged in my time sheet was paid at straight time. Current job is true salary, no matter how many hours I log, I still get paid the same. I couldn’t charge my employer even if I wanted to.)

        Stereotypical positions, such as food service or retail, it would be just plain weird to show up before or stay later than your shift schedule.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But there are lots of professional positions that are non-exempt, especially for recent grads. The majority of office positions, in fact, should be non-exempt.

          1. BRR*

            That is what I thought of, first jobs are often non-exempt. I was really tempted to shout back at him that it’s poor advice. Instead the person next to me got an earful including everything in your article and butt in chair does not equal productivity and so on.

        2. neverjaunty*

          No, if it were a manager of exempt staff, there would be no need to say ‘don’t charge your employer for it’. You can’t charge your employer for it, if you’re exempt. So it only makes sense if this idiot speaker is talking about people who get paid for the actual time worked.

          1. Jennifer M.*

            Not necessarily. I am exempt (the scope of my job and the salary that I earn both confirm this). But my company pays straight overtime – I list all the hours that I work and I get paid for them. Now, I use discretion – if I am at the office for 10 hours because we have a deadline and things need to get done, I put 10 hours on my timesheet. If I’m there for 10 hours because I ended taking a long lunch and was also unproductive, I assess – did I do 8 hours of work? Okay that’s what goes on the time sheet.

            1. neverjaunty*

              But that’s not really what the speaker was talking about? Deciding not to charge for a long lunch where you didn’t do work isn’t the same as ‘work for free’.

              1. Jennifer M.*

                You stated that exempt staff can’t charge their employers for their overtime, that’s what I was saying was not necessarily true. I wouldn’t put 30 minutes on a Sunday checking emails on my timesheet but I would put 2 hours on a Saturday reviewing/revising the new guy’s first analysis report. That’s my choice and because I am exempt, what it isn’t an issue.

                1. Jake*

                  @ask a manager

                  On large construction projects (think billion dollar federal jobs) it is actually the standard. However, it’s also standard for there to be a cap at 60 or 70 billed hours and for exempt employees to work 72 plus hours a week .

          2. Dan*

            I was an hourly exempt employee at my previous job. If I did what the speaker suggested, I’d be in violation of federal contracting laws, which REQUIRE that I accurately report the time I worked on various projects. (Which is different from FLSA.)

    1. Pwyll*

      “Now, as you take your first steps into the real world, take all that you learned here and BREAK THE LAW.”

    2. LibraryChick*

      I arrive early to work so that I have plenty of time to get settled in and organized before doing any actual work. If I come in right before my day is officially supposed to begin I am so much more likely to spend the day feeling frazzled. However, I am totally shocked by the number of managers out there who have no idea what payroll regulations exist. I have had a lot of awkward conversations over the years that stemmed from that ignorance. Twice now I have worked in offices where the hourly staff were putting in overtime one week, but then just adding those hours to another week when they were short of 40, instead of being paid for the overtime. The employees considered it a flexibility perk, and were angry when I shut it down.

      1. DoDah*

        Ugh, this reminds me when I was Team Lead in a very under-resourced department. One of the hourly staff used to clock out–and work for two hours. I spoke with him about it (as in–please don’t) but he kept doing it. I went to my boss and her response was , “oh he can do that if he wants.”—I couldn’t get out of that department fast enough!

      2. amy*

        oops…that’s illegal? My org does that all the time. So, is that different than comp time?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Comp time is legal for exempt employees, but illegal for non-exempt ones (unless it’s taken in the same week). There are some exceptions for government workers though.

          1. amy*

            Good to know. I think we are definitely skirting the law on that one. Will have to bring that up to our leadership.

          2. Audiophile*

            Really? I didn’t know this.

            I was given a comp day off after an event, the event fell at the end of one week and my comp day was the beginning of the next week, I was a nonexempt staff member.

            Should I run into this again, which is very likely. what should I do??

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s possible your organization has a payroll week that would make that okay (like if it’s Wednesday-Tuesday or something). They can set whatever 7-day period they want to use, but they can’t keep changing it around to avoid paying overtime.

              Do you prefer the comp day to overtime pay? If so, nothing requires you to protest. But if you’d rather have the overtime pay, you could point out that the law requires it.

              1. Audiophile*

                I ended up with overtime anyway, it didn’t seem like an attempt to avoid overtime just sort of a an “added perk”.

        2. zora.dee*

          And if you’re in CA, over 8 hours in one day legally has to be overtime, you cannot flex that to a different day. If you are non-exempt.

      3. Library Director*

        Oh, my yes. I spent my first year as a director correcting FSLA violations at my library. I had to formally tell hourly employees, in front of HR, that they were not allowed to work off the clock. Arriving early and settling in is reasonable and it’s good to leave people alone during this time.

    3. Not Karen*

      Suze Orman has said this too. It’s one of the few pieces of advice I disagree with her about. (Though she didn’t specify whether this advice differed depending on exempt status.)

    4. Melissa*

      Ugh, this would be terrible advice to people coming to work for my employer. It’s office work, but we are unionized and I think the union/employer would basically lose their minds if they found people working 10 hours and recording 8…

  2. R.*

    I recently received a raise to $48,000. They said it was performance-based, but it seems pretty clear it was because of the overtime law going into effect. Thanks, Obama!

    1. JessaB*

      But if you were already exempt, you wouldn’t be getting OT anyway, and they’d probably have told you not to work any, if it made you non-exempt. You’re still going to get more money, even if you only get a little. You’d still be working the same hours too, so it’s annoying but I can’t see where it makes it too bad in the long run?

      Or am I missing a detail?

      1. zora.dee*

        I think R. meant “Thanks, Obama!” Non-sarcastically.

        Or maybe I’m too optimistic ;)

  3. Muriel Heslop*

    I had a conversation about this with one of our secretaries just this morning. She’s non-exempt and I told her to stop checking email from home if she wasn’t going to get paid for that time. She explained that she wanted to be proactive, and it’s definitely part of school/education culture that everything is “for the kids.” I just sent her this link – thank you!

    I’ve learned a lot about this from you and this site, Alison. Many thanks!

    1. Dan*

      If she’s just *checking* email? I wouldn’t make an issue out of it. But if she’s responding to email, that’s different. I mean, I might check the email if it helps me plan my day better (or know that I have to get to an early meeting or something.)

      The reality is, *checking* email for someone who doesn’t get a ton, is a five minute job. You could in theory compromise and let her go home five minutes early.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Since she’s non-exempt she legally needs to be paid for checking email. That’s the whole point of the article.

        Five minutes a day everyday is two hours of pay they’re not getting every month. Of course it’s not a ton, but it legally matters. Brushing stuff like this off is exactly how people end up down a slippery slope. After all, what’s sending a quick two-minute follow up email? Now we’re talking about almost three hours of pay a month. No.

        1. Scribblz*

          Just imagine how underpaid you be if you did this constantly over a 30+ year career. I did the calculations based on my current hourly rate and I would’ve earned $16K less over my career! When you are a retiree scraping together change to pay for medicine, money like that could cushion life slightly for a year or two – especially if it had been invested!

          1. JessaB*

            And when your retirement (whether pension or Social Security or whatever,) is based on your prior earnings, this matters.

      2. Muriel Heslop*

        She is checking and responding to email. NOTHING she is doing has an urgent timeline (it’s summer and we work in a school district) but she feels like she should be doing it. Again, a lot of it is culture and input from her boss but it’s a bad habit, it’s not critical, and it can create a misperception about her workload during busier times.

        1. Dan*

          Which is why I suggested she go home five minutes “early” if the circumstances allow.

      3. Joseph*

        It’s not about the exact time. It’s about the legal requirements. She is working, therefore, needs to be paid for that time. Legally, it doesn’t matter whether it’s five minutes or five hours, you need to be paid.

        Your compromise could theoretically address this, but I don’t think it would work on a practical basis. First off, you’d need to figure out (in advance!) exactly how much time she needs, which might vary on a day-to-day basis. Secondly, in many cases, secretaries also man the office phone system, so letting her leave early may not be feasible if it messes with the required coverage.

        1. C32*

          Technically speaking, if it is just *five* minutes, isn’t this legal? Employers are allowed to round to 15 minute increments, so everything from 1 to 7 minutes can be rounded down and it doesn’t count.

          That said, if you have any more than an email or two, it’d probably take at least 8 minutes to read them and write a coherent reply.

    2. doreen*

      I’m wondering why the secretary has the ability to check email from home. That’s not usually a job that lends itself to working remotely, and it would be way easier to avoid overtime/uncompensated work if she didn’t have the ability to access her email- she presumably doesn’t need the access if she’s not doing anything urgent.

      The non-exempt professional staff at my job are going to be issued iPhones soon. Which is good, because they spend a lot of time out of the office without email access. But it’s also bad, because I know one or two of those in myofficeare going to decide that they must reply to every email immediately and I I’ll have to put a stop to the unapproved overtime.

      1. C32*

        I have worked in a call center–perhaps the epitome of not being able to work from home–and we were able to access our work email from home through a web browser. It occasionally was useful to coordinate shift trades, email in about an absence…or gossip over beers about emails our manager sent.

      2. Honeybee*

        They might be using a service that allows it – a lot of schools are using Gmail for education, for example, and you can access that from anywhere. I can also access my Outlook mail on my personal computer with two-factor authentication.

      3. AnonNurse*

        I’m a nurse (I know you’re shocked due to the screen name) and I most definitely have a job that has almost no reason for working remotely but the employees in my health system still have access to our email. I am hourly and check my email off the clock sometimes but only if I’ve been off for long stretches and don’t want to miss a new system update or something. I never respond to email off the clock though because that’s when it would be a problem.

  4. Embarrassed*

    Clearly I’m in the minority,but I almost never have this problem. Sure, I will work late to meet a deadline but I have no problem signing off on time. I work from home most of the time and people often ask if I have a hard time stopping work…nope. I feel like this is an embarrassing secret. For what it’s worth, I’ve received numerous promotions, always get good reviews and I think I’m well-regarded.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Hello, me! I also do a pretty good job of not worrying about work when I am not working. I rarely think about it once I step away from my desk. I actually have more of a problem of overly good intentions to finish something “after hours” after taking a break from work at the end of the duty day and never doing it. So I have many more intentions to work off the clock than I actually follow through with.

    2. pomme de terre*

      Nothing to be embarrassed about at all! I also try to stick pretty closely to a 40 hour work week. If I don’t, I know I need to work more efficiently, prioritize things differently, or talk to management about the workload.

      I just switched jobs from a place that had near-constant availability expectations to one where they do close up shop at night. The latter is far superior. There are a handful of people here who work irregular hours, but they are choosing to do so and they don’t expect others to respond ASAP.

    3. AnonyMeow*

      I used to work late ALL THE TIME, partially because after everyone left was the best time to concentrate on the important stuff, and partially because I was (am) working under unrealistic expectations around workload. (Being the only person who handles the sort of job I do has been a challenge–no one realizes how much time it takes to do something that can look real simple.) My job is the type of job where there is always something else to do, and there’s always new priorities added to the list.

      I worked 50+ hours every week for 4 or 5 years, got burnt out a couple of times along the way and became generally miserable before deciding enough was enough. I decided I won’t work more than 45 hours unless absolutely necessary. That was my new year’s resolution.

      I’ve been sticking to that for 7 months now, and I’ve been surprised by 1) how much happier I am, 2) how much more time and energy I seem to have and 3) how rarely is there true emergencies that require me to stay late. I’ve always been good about switching my brain from work mode to private mode as soon as I left work, but even then, the difference has been amazing. I haven’t snapped at my (innocent) husband from work stress, and my house is in much better order. #1 alone is enough for me to continue doing the 45-hour weeks.

      So, yeah, mental health and happiness are pretty big reasons for me not to work off the clock. (I’m exempt, so it’s not technically off the clock, but the argument holds…)

      1. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

        I think the rise of the open offices and having to work after hours to concentrate are connected. There is stuff that just can’t do with constant noise and interruption even if it’s low level or inadvertant.

        1. Tau*

          I go the opposite extreme and get in an hour earlier than most of my coworkers. We’re a dev team in an open-plan office who have been forbidden to use headphones because it “doesn’t look professional” – I still think this qualifies as some sort of sadism! Thankfully I’m pretty good at tuning out the noise, but sometimes that early quiet hour is a lifesaver.

    4. Jady*

      I think the workaholic attitude is a culture thing that’s slowly changing.

      I avoid working a single minute overtime as much as possible and have never had any issue with it. (Salaried.) Most people I’ve seen that work with me clock out on the dot too.

      I don’t think it’s embarrassing at all. I think it should be considered the norm. And unless you’re vying for ultra high level jobs, it should be all that anyone expects.

      1. Joseph*

        I’m not sure I agree that the workaholic culture is really “changing” as much as it is “showing up in a different way”. Yes, it’s become more acceptable to telecommute, strive for work-life balance, have flexible hours, and so forth…but at the same time, due to the proliferation of cell phones, email, etc, there’s also much less space between working and not working for many people.

        Someone posted in a different comment thread that she had to stop a secretary from checking email at home. Twenty years ago, when that secretary walked out the door at 5:00 pm, she would have been gone. Heck, if she left her home for any reason (dinner, tickets to a ballgame, etc), work wouldn’t have been able to track her down even if it was a true “the building is on fire” level emergency. Now? You’re literally never any further from work than the distance between your cell phone and your hand.

    5. Tau*

      I’m currently lucky enough to be in a position where overtime just doesn’t happen (about five different people have to sign off on it in triplicate several weeks in advance), and it is absolutely 100% understood that if I work late to meet a deadline on Thursday I will be coming in at 10am and leaving early on Friday to make up for that time. I worry about this in future jobs, because I love being able to say “nope, done for the day, see you tomorrow morning” and my field generally has a reputation for long hours.

    6. Chaordic One*

      While I’ve never considered this to be much of a problem, in previous jobs I often times I found myself stressed-out and then burnt-out by trying to squeeze too much work into 40 hours. My supervisors were rarely much help and didn’t seem to have much in the way of suggestions about reducing the workload.

  5. Rebecca*

    Thank you so much for this. Aside from the illegal part, and that’s the most important part, the stress it puts on coworkers and the skewing of how many hours it actually takes to get the job done is HUGE!! DO NOT DO THIS! As a coworker on the receiving end of my fellow employees’ good intentions, several of us went through 2+ years of awful workloads because a group of people took it upon themselves to work for free. Management couldn’t see all the OT hours needed to get the job done because they weren’t being recorded. Boss was not really all that forceful about enforcing it, and I’d like to think my constant needling about how it was illegal, skewing the numbers, etc. finally had an impact. Now we have several new employees, and it’s wonderful to not run around like it’s a fire drill every single day.

    1. Kyrielle*

      This. At $PreviousJob we were salaried and exempt, and it was _still_ a problem when people worked and didn’t record it, because it contributed to being understaffed. My boss was on our cases heavily a couple times to record every hour we worked, because the people putting in extra time without recording it were keeping him from making his case that we were understaffed.

      1. NoWhiteFlag*

        This. At OldJob, I would always report the actual number of hours that I worked. Our management team didn’t like it but there was no way that I was working an 80 hour week and calling it 40. It just leads to crazy expectations and additional poor project planning and estimating.

      2. JessaB*

        Not to mention some things are included in cost, even if you’re not doing hourly billing like a law firm or something, the boss knowing they need 6 people instead of 5 in order to do it without burning out the building, will make the job cost more compared to one that really can be done by 5.

      3. Jadelyn*

        We strongly ask our exempt staff to accurately record their hours worked for this exact reason. A lot of them have the habit of just entering 8 – 8 – 8 – 8 – 8 for each week, but we try to remind them and stress that we NEED to know if your work is taking multiple 10 or 12 hour days every week to get done, because that’s how we justify hiring someone to help you out with some of it! They’ll get paid the same amount regardless, but tracking extra hours in the timesheet allows me to run a report out of our timekeeping system and say “Um, this department of 3 people has averaged over 150 work-hours per week for the past two months, we should maybe do something about that.” If everyone just puts 8 hours per day regardless, we have to rely on subjective testimony from employees who feel overworked – which is hard to use, because how do we know if you’re overworked or just inefficient? Or if you’re overworked or just lazy and want less responsibility?

        Please, as a numbers person, I beg you: give me good data to use on your behalf, PLEASE!

        1. Trix*

          As a fellow numbers person, I wholeheartedly agree! I can work wonders if you give me accurate and thorough data, but I am not a magician.

        2. boop*

          This comment reminds me of a past coworker who would complain to me that one of the refrigerators had been broken for days with nobody coming in to repair it. Right in the middle of this complaint, he recorded on a temp sheet that the refrigerator was working perfectly.

          Well, that explains it!

    2. themmases*

      This. You are contributing to your own misery if you help make it look like a poorly conceived or under-resourced project can work!

    3. Beezus*

      I did this to a team I worked on a few years ago. They had some critical staffing shortages and I started working long hours to keep things afloat. Then we got into a turnover spiral that turned into some management changes and ‘giving Beezus a sane workload’ was always a priority somewhere on the horizon, but it was never ever a priority right now (until I left).

      It wasn’t until I was gone a while that I could see how I’d contributed to that situation by never letting anything fail. It was a VERY painful lesson all around.

      1. Ife*

        Learning how to strategically let things fail is a very important skill. That was something my first boss taught me. He saw things starting to slip, so he sat down with me and helped me figure out what was really a priority and what I should let slide (and what that looked like — tell the client this will be late by X days, etc.). It was hard to learn, because until then I had been in the school/academic mindset that “Failure is not an option,” but in the working world… it’s just something that happens when the workload is higher than the number of hours available.

        1. Beezus*

          Yeah, and I’m much better at it a few years down the road. I had some personal things contributing to it at the time, too – my husband had just lost his job when it started (was ultimately unemployed for over a year), and I needed to make myself essential, and I couldn’t afford for any process failures to be misinterpreted as performance failures on my part and impact my job security or bonuses or pay raises, and I couldn’t trust my managers to be reasonable.

    4. Anon This Time*

      I am also on the receiving end of this. There are three of us on my team who work on roughly the same projects. One of the other two routinely works 15-20 hours every weekend and now our boss has taken to asking for work at 9 a.m. Saturday or 6 p.m. Sunday. None of these things are anywhere near urgent (I work in higher ed, and we have a saying that “nothing is an emergency in higher ed”) but the expectation is starting to be there that we’ll work outside of regular hours.

      Of course, we’re unionized and NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THIS. Ugh.

        1. Anon This Time*

          I’m the only one still on probationary status :/ or I would have yesterday.

      1. anon for this*

        You’re gonna love this one, I worked for a large Union, where the staff are ALSO Unionized, where all of the management ‘strongly hints’ to all staff that they are expected to work 12 hours days and over the weekends and that you will NEVER put more than 8 hours on a timesheet…….. one of the most severe cases of “martyr yourself to the cause” i have ever seen.

  6. Post Script*

    I have a coworker that just graduated college. We got hired ont0 this team at the same time, but I’ve been with this company for a couple more years than him. He has this terrible tendency to work 4 or 5 hours OT and then not log it (I’m exempt, he’s non-exempt)… I just emailed him this article (Thanks Alison!) and his response was this: “But what if i call the work a personal project that i wouldn’t expect the company to fund anyway?”

    Any good answers for him? My initial response was: “My personal rule is this: If I were to get fired right now, would I keep working on the project? If yes, then it’s truly personal. But if I would stop, then it’s work for Company, and I should be paid for it.”

    1. OriginalYup*

      Your answer was very good. (Mine would have been less helpful, more along the lines of, “Stop splitting hairs and making this a semantics issue. You’re not *showing initiative* when you expose the company to DOL fines for breaking the law.”)

      1. Murphy*

        That’s what my answer would be too, but I suppose this is why I’m known as a “ball-buster” as I found out last week.

        I’m pretty sure I’m proud of that title.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      My only exception would be grad school projects that blur the lines but even those are usually only allowed for non-profits and gov’t entities. My husband will be doing a Capstone that involves something he already does as part of his regular gov’t job. He will likely be working on it in the office. He is doing it for grad school credit. It will benefit his employer somewhat and he is getting kudos for doing it but if he weren’t getting school credit he wouldn’t be doing the project. He doesn’t log overtime for hours spent on the project – or on work that wasn’t done during the 9-5 b/c he was working on the project. That’s flex time to him. I think he’s exempt anyway but he still gets comp time for OT.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Your response is very good. Mine would probably be “Why don’t you call the Department of Labor and ask?” and/or “Lying about the reason you’re doing work doesn’t make it legal and okay.”

    4. LCL*

      “But what if i call the work a personal project that i wouldn’t expect the company to fund anyway?”
      No. You cannot use company resources to do your own personal projects! The liability for the company is huge.

      1. Electron whisperer*

        Not really a given.

        My employer is just fine with me doing the odd genuinely personal project, off the clock and will even sign off the odd parts requisition, as long as there is some however transparent way to justify it… I think they see it as a retention strategy.

        The whisperer coming in on a weekend because he wants to play with the vector network analyser or wants some time in the screened room to test his latest aerial design, or wants to use the laser cutter/micro-focus Xray machine or whatever is just fine and is actually a job perk (That VNA is an $80,000 machine), not that I would ever expect to do this for work (At least not routinely), but for my own amusement, why not?

        If the US has laws that make that impossible, that is just sad.

        1. Honeybee*

          The law doesn’t prohibit using work resources beyond work hours; it prevents employers from exploiting employees by extracting extra work for them that’s really work. Because think about it: any employer that wanted to illegally work their employees could simply pressure their employees (explicitly or tacitly) to say projects are “optional” or “personal” as a way to get around the laws.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        If it’s 100% personal, it shouldn’t be happening at work – in software, if it happens at work they have a claim on it even if you don’t think it’s related to your job. And, of course, it’s company time and equipment.

        If it’s a Google Friday type thing – something that you’re experimenting with on your own initiative, which may or may not work out or become an official part of the product if it does – then it’s not really “personal” even though that word is often used.

    5. Library Director*

      A great response. I’ve told people that I don’t want to go to jail because they work off the clock. I sign their payroll and am stating it’s true. I refer them to the DOL statement, “Time spent doing work not requested by the employer, but still allowed, is generally hours worked, since the employer knows or has reason to believe that the employees are continuing to work and the employer is benefiting from the work being done. This time is commonly referred to as ‘working off the clock.'”

      1. Post Script*

        This is a great line to have! I couldn’t remember if the DOL had an official definition of hours worked (but of course they do). Thank you

  7. Lizabeth*

    How about this? Employer cut everyone’s hours to 32 BUT gave a raise to offset the loss of 8 hours pay. When the new law goes into effect my pay will be above the new threshold IF I worked a 40 hour week. Would I be considered exempt?

    1. Pwyll*

      In addition to meeting the duties test, in December you’ll need to be paid on a salary basis at least $913 per week. So, if your pay fluctuates based on the number of hours you work, you’re non-exempt. And if you’re making less than $913 per week, you’re non-exempt.

      The salary test isn’t based on your hourly rate, but rather what you actually are making.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, and if what you’re actually making is below the threshold, you’re non-exempt. There aren’t any exceptions for being part-time (which is odd — it seems like there should be).

        1. Pwyll*

          It looks to me more like your employer is creating a buffer zone to protect against overtime: if you work more than 32 hours in a week, this arrangement could give the employer time to readjust our schedule before you hit the 40 mark and incur time and a half.

        2. chocoholic*

          Yes, I wish it gave exceptions for PT. I work 20hrs/week and would meet the salary basis test if I was FT, but since I only get paid 50% of that salary, it is below the amount. I offered to let them increase my salary so I could stay exempt, but they declined ;-)

        3. LiteralGirl*

          So Alison, my friend who made $55k full time who now makes $44k as a .8 FTE would get converted to non-exempt? In order to stay an exempt employee, she would either need to go back to full time or get a pay increase? I just want to clarify so I can warn her. Thanks!

        4. Joseph*

          RE: No part-time exemptions.

          I think it’s simply to avoid creating loopholes.

          If you make it an air-tight “Less than $X makes you non-exempt, end of story”, it’s simpler and more effective than if you start making various exceptions that companies could (and would!) try to wiggle themselves into.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Although you’d have to add “if the person averages a higher than X-hour week over a three-month period, the exemption will be lost.”

          1. Elysian*

            But if you’re part-time, you’re probably not getting overtime by definition (because you’re not working enough hours). So it only really relates to time-tracking and reporting requirements, which, frankly you need to keep track of for part-time employees anyway for benefits purposes.

        5. non-profit manager*

          Based on my experience at two different organizations, part time exempt is very difficult to manage. On both sides. The employee has the expectation that he or she will work a certain number of hours per week and is in fact managing his or her time like an hourly employee. The employer, on the other hand, expects the work to get done, even if it happens outside of the part-time employee’s hours or causes the employee to work more hours than agreed on.

          Dealing with this issue with three separate employees, two pushed back on the extra hours, which caused problems with management. We ended up converting one to non-exempt and the other quit. One employee ended up working full-time plus, even though she had taken a pay cut under the assumption she would be part-time. She ended up burning out and quitting.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            I’m familiar with an organization that hired someone for a full-time job on a part-time salary. They only got *one* applicant who met the bare minimum qualifications for the position; everyone else noped out when they learned they’d be “part-time” with a full-time workload. So they hired her, even though she’s incompetent and tyrannical. She’s still there several years later.

  8. pomme de terre*

    PREACH, Alison!

    In addition to the reasons you mention, the work that gets done in the 40+ hour range is usually of inferior quality.

  9. Alton*

    Great article! I hadn’t thought much about some of these points, like the skewing of expectations.

    I’m the only non-exempt person in my department, and I feel awkward sometimes about being the only one who had to track the amount of time I work/who can’t work late or leave early.

    But this actually makes me more careful about not working off the clock, because I don’t want to create the impression that I’m exempt and have people take it for granted that staying late or answering e-mails on Saturday is no different for me than it is for them.

  10. Librarianna*

    My sister works for a county job, where she is supposed to work approximately 30 hours per week, but if there is a big deadline, she will work on projects at home off the clock. Her boss keeps telling her how valuable she is and what will they possibly do if she leaves, and I keep telling her to not let them take advantage of her. Maybe I will send her this article.

  11. Newish Reader*

    I used to manage a department where I was the only exempt employee. I had been offered the role for one set of skills that I possessed, but I was lacking other skills/experience that the job needed. So I worked extra hours to get up to speed, then extra hours to get through a particular project, then extra hours for the next “special” project, then extra hours to keep up with the workload when staff were cut, then extra hours for the new projects dumped on our department. . . And being exempt, there was no record of the hours actually worked.

    When I attempted to talk to my supervisor about the sheer number of hours needed to perform the work being unsustainable, she was not at all willing to accept less output than she was used to. Had I stuck closer to 40 hour work weeks and not kept working during vacations (and holidays and sick days), it would have been apparent earlier on that it was just too much work for one person.

    After I left and found a job with humane expectations, they had to parcel my workload out to at least three other people. Had I not already been having conversations with my supervisor regarding the excessive workload, that could have been a nasty surprise.

  12. Crystal*

    I’m a formerly exempt employee who by the new law has to be non-exempt, and I am absolutely going to continue to work off the clock. The reason is that it is not possible to create an excellent product in 8 hours a day. Our employer knows this and has essentially told us we will be putting out an acceptable (as opposed to excellent) product, and that is okay with them. It is NOT okay with me because our product directly impacts people’s safety. I don’t care if it’s illegal, I don’t care about the impact on my coworkers or on the person who might get my job in the future. I only care about the impact on my clients. This (non-profit) job has always attracted people who wanted to make their job their life, and I am one of those with no desire to have much of a life outside of work. So for an admittedly totally selfish person who does not want a life outside work, doesn’t care what the law says and is pretty sure no one is going to be enforcing the new policy, what reason is there to not continue working off the clock?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, all the reasons in the article, particularly that you’re exposing your employer to significant financial liability. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be the one to report it; for example, a disgruntled coworker could report it and your org would get in the same trouble.

    2. BRR*

      I admire your passion for your cause but there are still plenty of reasons to not work off the clock. From the linked article “It doesn’t matter if you’re doing that work voluntarily; you can’t waive your right to overtime. And if you just work the overtime anyway and don’t log it, that could get your employer into a lot of trouble later.” You might think it won’t be enforced but I would strongly disagree. Most employers wouldn’t be ok with it and the government is going to definitely care. And there are other situations like one disgruntled employee can report it or it shows up in some report etc. And I know you said you don’t care about your coworkers but I urge you to because they might feel pressured by what you’re doing to also break the law and that’s an incredibly selfish thing to do.

      Your heart is in the right place and I really like seeing there are people with that amount of passion but you might end up doing more harm than good by violating the law. Have you thought about alternatives such as volunteering at a different organization with a similar mission?

      1. BRR*

        I agree with you but the LW seems to be ok with their salary and not receiving overtime pay. It sounds like they would be receiving the same salary as before the new regulations take place and be working less hours.

    3. misspiggy*

      You’re taking on a lot of liability for your employer, both in terms of the employment law stuff and the product itself. If your hidden, off-the-clock work is the only thing stopping this nonprofit putting people’s safety at risk, they are a poorly-run organisation and someone with your high standards would be better working somewhere with higher standards. As in, an agency that produced quality products to a realistic timescale without off-the-books work being needed. This kind of thing can be funded properly in the nonprofit sector.

    4. neverjaunty*

      If you truly care about people’s safety, then why on earth are you enabling a company that – by your own description – is willing to put people’s safety at risk by understaffing and making a merely ‘acceptable’ product?

      1. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

        Exactly. Your company is failing in the marketplace (or at least just being “acceptable.”) So let it die then.

        Capitalism is all about survival of the fittest, even in the non-profit world.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, WTF? This is not a solution to the problem. If you end up in the hospital tomorrow and can’t work for months, are you okay with a subpar product being delivered while you’re out? I doubt it. Allowing what you deem to be a critical element of work to hinge on one person’s efforts is never a good plan, whether it involves violating overtime laws or not. You’re doing a disservice to your clients by enabling your employer to cut corners.

    5. Murphy*

      I don’t care if it’s illegal, I don’t care about the impact on my coworkers or on the person who might get my job in the future. I only care about the impact on my clients.

      Honestly, if you worked for me and I heard you saying this, I’d be having first a very stern conversation with you and if it didn’t change after that it would be a fireable offence. How effective do you think the organization will be when they’re mired in legal battles or paying back-wages for staff that impacts their ability to be solvent.

      1. pomme de terre*

        Aside from legal and financial concerns, I would be verrrrry concerned about a loose cannon having contact with what sounds like a vulnerable population.

      2. LBK*

        If an employee flat-out told me they were going to break the law and disobey my instructions not to do so, I would probably fire them on the spot.

        1. Honeybee*

          This. I mean, what other choice would I have? I would wonder what other rules and regulations they would flagrantly disobey just because they didn’t personally see the point of them.

    6. Clever Name*

      You say your only concern is for your clients. That’s admirable, and as a consultant, something I understand deeply. Have you thought about what would happen to your clients if your organization were to be held accountable for your unpaid overtime (meaning they owed you significant backpay)? You organization may fold, and then where would your clients be?

      1. Crystal Vu*

        I was going to say this. You could get your organization in so much trouble it folds and then your clients are out to sea. Think about that, please.

    7. Jennifer M.*

      But here’s the thing, by working off the clock, it isn’t you who is breaking the law, it is your company that is breaking the law by not paying you for all the hours worked. What if some disgruntled employee reports that you are not getting paid for all the hours you work and your organization gets so mired in fines and legal fees that they end up going out of business? And if they do go out of business, who is going to serve their clients?

    8. Alton*

      And what happens if you ever leave this organization? What happens now to the clients who receive your coworkers’ “acceptable” product?

      I think your motivation is admirable, but it sounds like there are bigger issues if the company is willing to sacrifice standards and possibly jeopardize people’s safety. That’s not something that can be salvaged by one dilligent employee. If overtime is really necessary, they should be paying people for it.

    9. Mike C.*

      If it’s important enough to be considered a safety issue, it’s important enough to hire enough people or otherwise pay overtime to ensure that it’s done correctly. In the meantime, you’re creating unreasonable expectations for your coworkers who might want to have a life outside of work.

      Please don’t do this.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Also for whoever takes your position if/when you leave (and it sounds like leaving might be appropriate given your concerns about safety).

      2. PollyQ*

        Yes, exactly what Mike C. said.

        And if the product can’t (or just wouldn’t) be delivered safely with a legally paid employee base, then I would hope that there’s an oversight organization that Crystal could notify.

    10. another IT manager*

      I’m selfish: I don’t want a product that “directly impacts [my] safety” created by someone tired, overworked, and (eventually) burned out.

      1. pomme de terre*

        Yes! She will burn out and the OT work will be of inferior quality, thus providing clients with an even less safe than “acceptable” product. This is especially true if she’s going to try not only to maintain her current/excellent workload but to also close the gap created by her coworkers’ limited hours.

        For the time being, “acceptable” might be the best the org can do for the community it serves.

        1. JessaB*

          And if acceptable is not safe then there’s a bigger issue here. The product needs to be discontinued if it cannot be safe AND acceptable.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Or who prioritizes their need to ‘live to work’ over a well-run company consistently making a safe product.

    11. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

      Have you considered asking for your hourly rate to be decreased so they can pay you for the overtime without increasing total payroll costs? Bad idea for lots of reasons, but would allow you to do what you want hours wise without the company breaking the law.

    12. Ife*

      What does it even mean that the product will be “acceptable” instead of “excellent”? If an acceptable product meets all the minimum safety requirements in your industry, and does so at a cost that is affordable for the clients, isn’t that success? Sure, it’s not The Greatest Product Ever, but not everything has to be. In fact, very few things are. It serves its purpose and it does it pretty well. 

      On the other hand, if “acceptable” means cutting corners and ignoring safety standards, then you need to be reporting your employer to a regulatory agency. Stepping up — off the clock!– to fix other people’s shoddy work is not the answer here.

      1. pomme de terre*

        Exactly — the poster strikes me as someone very young and idealistic and inexperienced, who is perhaps letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If “acceptable” is unsafe, she should report the employer. If “acceptable” is not up to her personal standards, she should have more faith that management knows what it’s doing. Maybe funding will shift in the future and allow them to return to excellent standards, or maybe they will figure out how to do more with less and innovate, or maybe they’ll reevaluate strategy if acceptable products aren’t getting the job done.

        If she wants to work off the clock, she might serve her clients better by researching different delivery methods and pitching them to management or applying for grants or something. Churning out more product at what will certainly be increasingly poor quality levels is not going to help.

    13. Honeybee*

      In addition to what everyone else already said on this thread, consider that although you currently don’t want a life outside of work that your situation might change in the future and you’ve set yourself up for failure. If you’ve created the impression that your job can be done in 40 hours when really it’s taking you 60 hours a week, and in a few months or years down the line you need to actually work only 40 hours because of any variety of reasons – life situation changes, health changes, or you simply don’t have the passion you once had for the career field – you’ve effectively disabled yourself from doing that. Your boss is going to think that you’re slacking off and wonder why your productivity isn’t keeping up with pace. And what are you going to tell him? “Boss, for the last 2 years I’ve been flagrantly and openly disobeying your policies and labor law and working 60 hours a week even though I know I’m not supposed to, but now I’m kind of tired of that”?

      Besides, there’s also self-interest in your career. What if your boss has been angling for additional support in your division for ages and suspects that you are working more than the 40 hours allotted? That might be messing up his ability to speak to HIS boss about what he needs. When/if he finds out, he might be really upset that you were (unwittingly) undermining his ability to do HIS job.

      Also, there may be especially stringent requirements on people who do your job because of the sensitive nature of it. For example, there are limits to how many hours straight a medical resident can work, because research shows that sleepy medical residents make more mistakes. Same with nurses. I don’t want some nurse who’s been awake and working for 36 hours straight intubating me or making last-second medical decisions because she thinks she’s above the law. You could hurt one of your clients and land your company in litigation against them for this.

  13. Grey*

    pretty sure no one is going to be enforcing the new policy

    Ok. But I’d be more than just “pretty sure” since this could be a fireable offense if they found out.

    1. Joseph*

      It would absolutely be a fireable offense. Many people have covered the potential team morale, expectations and legal issues…but almost as importantly, the employer has explicitly said they do not allow more than 8 hours per day. You would be flagrantly ignoring their order, which is insubordination – a major issue in and of itself.

  14. Lauren*

    I am a non-exempt older worker who produces excellent work–between 7:30 and 4:00 Monday through Friday. While I have stayed a bit (15+) minutes after to handle a phone call or finish up a database, those occurrences are unusual. I stick to my hours and would never, ever dream of working off the clock. My personal life is far more important than my work life and no employer would ever get part of it as a “freebie.” To be honest, I am astounded at the number of employees who feel differently.

    1. Rebecca*

      I totally agree. I won’t hang up on someone and bolt out the door, or leave a very important item undone because it would take me past quitting time by 15 minutes, but I put that time down on my time card and I get paid for it. My work time is not free.

  15. Not an IT Guy*

    Unfortunately not everyone has a choice whether or not to work off the clock. If a senior employee tells me to stay late off the clock and I refuse, that’s an insubordination charge. If I don’t help customers during the time I’m clocked out for lunch, that’s an ethics violation. It’s unfortunate, but I’d much rather go without the pay than without a job.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Call your state department of labor and/or an employment attorney. This is wage theft. There are remedies (at least in the US).

    2. BRR*

      Is there no concern for legal violations? I get that you’re in a position where it sounds like you can’t really do much about it though. You would think they would at lest like to keep the push to do illegal things a little quieter.

    3. Not Karen*

      Do you not have the option of getting a job somewhere else that obeys the law? Your employer is certainly not the only employer out there.

      1. Not an IT Guy*

        Unfortunately with a signed non-comp and very weak resume, another job is out of the question.

        1. Leatherwings*

          I think you can still file an anonymous complaint though. This is bullshit and you shouldn’t have to put up with it just to keep your job. Good luck, I hope you can resolve this.

        2. JessaB*

          I’d still talk to a lawyer because I’m not sure a non-comp will hold up if they’re forcing you to break the law. I don’t think they can deny you future employment in the industry if they’re breaking the law like that. IANAL but seriously “I’d love to stay and work for them but they’re making me do illegal stuff, and it’s insanely unreasonable to prevent me from changing jobs to someone who actually obeys the law here.” Might or might not fly.

        3. neverjaunty*

          That non-compete may not be worth the paper it’s printed on. Please, meet with an employment attorney to get advice on what your rights here are and what alternatives you have – talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer doesn’t mean you have to sue anybody.

    4. Bob Barker*

      I mean, I had a Senior Teapot Maker tell me to “just make stuff up” for the profit-and-loss prospectus on a new teapot design, to make the numbers work. I told him, No, actually, I’m not comfortable with you asking me to commit fraud, and boy did he back down fast. In my case, he probably hadn’t even thought of the fact that falsifying numbers in a financial report is kinda fraud-y (he was not a number-literate person), but it was pretty damn clear to me.

      Your senior employee is committing a financial crime every time he/she does this. If they don’t know that, it’s best they learn. If they do know that and don’t care, boy howdy are you in for some back wages, and they’re going to get their asses kicked.

    5. Anonynony*

      I’d keep my own records of the overtime, look for a new job, and once I left and started my new job, try to settle up with my old job and/or file a wage claim with my state. What your current employer is doing to you is WRONG.

    6. Expected to pay more than my fair share*

      I fail to see what is insubordinate or unethical about obeying the law.

      1. JessaB*

        Some shady or ignorant bosses consider anyone saying “no” to them to be insubordinate. Those that know better do it because they think the employees are going to go along because they need the job. Those that don’t know, can be educated.

  16. Tara R.*

    Bussing means that I have to be at my internship about fourty minutes early. No big deal– I sit, have some coffee, read a book, chat with another more senior coworker who also busses. The issue is that she always asks me to start with the opening tasks fifteen minutes before we open. None of the other interns get in until our start time and I feel weird about putting in fifteen minutes of unpaid work every day. Five minutes wouldn’t be a big deal, but fifteen minutes a day (plus five minutes at the end of the day) adds up so quickly! I’ve actually started taking the bus that gets me there a couple minutes late (after my supervisor said it was okay) mostly to avoid this problem, but that bus has been unreliable lately and I’m probably going to have to switch back. :(

    1. BRR*

      I would go with, “how woudl you like me to report this time?” or “should I just report it like my other time?”

      1. Chriama*

        Agreed! You should be putting in an extra 15 minutes or leaving 15 minutes early. She probably doesn’t even realize this is happening. At the very least I would recommend not getting to the office early or not being available. Can you hang out at a nearby café or hide out in an empty conference room?

      2. JessaB*

        Yeh, I would just presume they want me to report the time (or leave 15 early,) and ask how they want it handled.

    2. LCL*

      Sit in the break room, or the locker room, or the lobby, or some other place that isn’t your desk.

    3. Cochrane*

      My first job was on “Vince Lombardi time”. Fifteen minutes early is on time, on time was late.

    4. LizM*

      Could you change your schedule so that your report time is 15 min early but you get to leave 15 min early in the afternoon? It’s not unusual for people’s start time to be staggered. If the senior employee isn’t your superviser she might not realize you don’t technically clock in until start time. I would discuss the situation with your boss.

  17. irritable vowel*

    I would say spend that time off-premises if there’s anywhere convenient between the bus stop and your workplace (coffee shop, park, library, even the lobby of another large office building). Since your boss has gotten in the habit of having you around early, if she spots you in the breakroom she’s still likely to say, “Hey, can you come and start opening up?” Removing the temptation at least until that habit is broken would be best.

    1. Tara R.*

      Yeah, we both tend to hang out in the breakroom currently. The reason I go in so early is because there’s absolutely nothing between the bus stop and our workplace– but I think this is the kick that I needed to start getting off several stops early, grab some coffee, and walk the 20 minutes to work. It’s good to get some morning exercise anyway. :-)

      (In response to commenters suggesting I should just ask how to report the time– she definitely knows that I know that I’m not supposed to report more than 7.5 hours a day. This is a grant-funded position, and it’s at a not for profit so there tends to be an expectation that we’ll do a little more around the edges. I don’t mind putting in a couple extra minutes here and there– but this gets my goat because there’s nothing urgent about these tasks and they don’t *have* to be done 15 minutes early. It can wait!)

      1. irritable vowel*

        Sounds like a great idea! I love building in a walk as part of my commute when I can, and the best thing about it is you know it will always take you the same amount of time (as opposed to anything involving traffic or public transit).

  18. Lentils*

    Oh, this is funny timing. I just got a mini-lecture from my best friend yesterday because I mentioned I was unsure of when I was allowed to answer Skype messages from my remote team, usually questions about the data they work with. (The issue is, they’re working on data that’s time-sensitive, they get two minutes before they have to submit each individual audio clip, so I feel like I have to answer their questions immediately. I know rationally I don’t, but.) I’ve got Skype on my phone so I can have an easy way to contact my supervisor when I’m out of office for illness or whatever (our building gets terrible cell service but the internet works fine so we use Skype as the main source of communication other than face-to-face), and she just had me set up the group for my team last week, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it now that everyone has a way to contact me immediately. It’s also kind of a weird dynamic because my supervisor is exempt and ends up doing a lot of work from home because she leaves early to pick up her kids from work, etc. so I’ll sometimes get messages from her later in the evening. So she never told me not to, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, my friend got really upset on my behalf that nobody had specifically told me not to do anything work-related with Skype while I’m not actually working. The notifications popping up on my phone annoy me because I want to make them go away, but I’ll do my best to ignore them from now on outside of working hours. Thanks for laying it out so clearly, Alison.

    On a similar note, the higher-ups in this department (who are almost all international) have an expectation that I should be checking my email once per day while I’m taking vacation days. Is that also an issue? (Yes, I am trying to jump ship as soon as I can.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s paid vacation, that won’t trigger any laws since you’re being paid for the time. If it’s unpaid vacation, they’d need to log and pay you for that time.

      1. Alton*

        Do you mean that employees who are using paid vacation can be required to do work?

        At the organization where I work, people can’t be “billed” for vacation time if they’re working. If you take 8 hours of vacation time but work for a half hour, that would put you at 40.5 hours for the week, and anything over 40 is considered overtime. I actually just did some training on how to handle it in the system if someone works during time that they’re supposed to be off, to make sure that the hours even out.

        So I think it depends on individual policies or possibly local laws.

          1. Alton*

            Interesting. I’m curious if individual states do things differently or if it’s just an institutional thing.

            I work for a state university, and even paid state holidays that don’t require us to use our leave are still handled as a form of leave and require documentation that we didn’t work. They don’t mess around. And non-exempt employees have to log their hours including any leave used, so working while on leave results in overages.

            1. doreen*

              I think it’s probably an institutional/title issue . I work for a state agency that has people working even on state holidays – they earn a day of holiday leave when they work a full day on a holiday. However, we can also use any sort of leave in 15 minute increments, so I could work for a half hour ( say on a conference call ) and use vacation leave for the rest of the day

  19. Hot Ice Hilda*

    I never had this happen in the US, but now that I live in the UK all of my coworkers do it. I refuse to do it, and if asked would point out that this would bring me down to less than minimum wage, and as I am an immigrant, it would technically make the company guilty of human trafficking. That’s one way to get out of checking emails at home…

  20. Quiet*

    Alison, thank you so much for addressing this. My boss was/is an over-worker. It’s how she’s wired, and even though she didn’t transfer that expectation to her staff, the chronic overwork is causing a major problem now that she’s trying to retire. The higher-ups have a skewed vision of what it takes to run our department (half exempt employees/half non-exempt) and we’ve had zero success adding staff. Even though I’m well positioned to move into the role if I wanted to, I’ve opted out. Re-setting people’s expectations is a battle I don’t have the energy to fight, nor am I willing to risk my reputation doing so. Seeing her battle all sorts of stress-related health issues factored into my decision, too. It’s just not worth it.

    1. non-profit manager*

      I wrote in a comment above about the part-time exempt employee who was actually working full time plus then burned out and quit. I (foolishly?) took her place. And I am running into problems when people don’t understand why I can’t get this and that done, even though my predecessor could and she was only part time. Sigh. Never mind that our organization has gone from 30 to 50 employees and business has expanded since she left.

  21. Milton Waddams*

    Normally the way I’ve seen this is encouraged is at high-turnover shops where the employer gives employees more work than they could do in the amount of hours authorized by the employer, while letting it known that they will fire (and then following up on it) for not meeting goals. Then if the employees get caught working off the clock, they are fired for breaking the law.

  22. MissDisplaced*

    I’d guess for the last year I’m putting up with “It gives your employer bad information about what it takes to get your job done.”

    I generally work 10-12 hours a day, and often take work home on weekends too. And I never catch up. In fact, I seem to have about triple the workload of a year ago.

    I’ve asked for help (my former manager left last summer) and been told no, yet other departments keep hiring.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I should add though that I recently took vacation and COMPLETELY unplugged for a whole week! :-)
      People were calling, texting and emailing me, and I felt free and justified to ignore them.
      It was heaven.

  23. Anonny teacher, longtime reader here*

    I’m very curious: how will this impact teachers?

    Teaching is one of those jobs where working outside of school (work) hours is deeply, deeply ingrained in the culture. We grade papers, work on lesson plans, cut out shapes for tomorrow’s project in the evenings. Many, many teachers stay after school past our official check out time. And how about attending evening open house, award ceremonies, dances? Right now those types of things are included as “other duties as assigned” and we are required to attend, putting us over 40 hours a week. Of course we’re salaried exempt, but an awful lot of teachers don’t make $48K a year…will we be a part of this overtime change, too?

    Part of me wants the teaching profession to be held to the same standards as everyone else. Part of me thinks that there is literally no way to do what needs to get done within the hours of the school day, when most of them are spent in class teaching students, and a very limited amount of time during my conference period and before and after school to get so, so much done.

    There’s kind of a feeling in this profession that goes, Oh, but you get the summers off! Make up for all that extra time then. And this profession is also known to play hard and fast even with the rights that we do have (there are all sorts of perfectly legal exceptions that allow the administration to take away our “duty-free lunch,” for example–and don’t get me started on how often we have to give up our conference period to be a substitute teacher in another classroom because the admin “couldn’t” get a sub).

    So really, how will this work out for us?

    –a teacher who struggles with work/life balance

    1. Library Director*

      Teachers are exempt and there is no salary basis, even if they also coach, tutor, advise, etc.
      “Exempt teachers include, but are not limited to: Regular academic teachers; teachers of kindergarten or nursery school pupils; teachers of gifted or disabled children; teachers of skilled and semi-skilled trades and occupations; teachers engaged in automobile driving instruction; aircraft flight instructors; home economics teachers; and vocal or instrumental music instructors. Those faculty members who are engaged as teachers but also spend a considerable amount of their time in extracurricular activities such as coaching athletic teams or acting as moderators or advisors in such areas as drama, speech, debate or journalism are engaged in teaching. Such activities are a recognized part of the schools’ responsibility in contributing to the educational development of the student.”
      29 C.F.R. §541.303(b)

      1. A black cat's minion*

        I don’t think that’s correct. None of the other subsections B-F contain a salary basis. That’s noted in parts A & G (which hasn’t been updated).

        29 C.F.R. §541.303(b) cites examples but they still need to comply with the new salary minimum. Unlike, for example, agricultural workers (who are written as ineligible for OT) or outside sales (who are expressly defined as exempt regardless of salary). Exempt status is still a 2-part test, though it is easy to skip the duties test if you’re not near the ~$48k minimum and just pay you hourly.

        The DoL did say when they released the new regs that there would be forthcoming guidance documents for colleges and other industries, so there might be interpretation there.

        Healthy dose of IANAL here.

    2. AnonXY*

      I’ve commented previously about this topic as I work in education. I am not a teacher though, I’m part-time and hourly.

      I’m going to be honest; I’m at work right now. There’s lots of stuff I could be doing. But during a slow period, there’s only so much hustle I have for my extra projects. And because the free time is so unpredictable, I have been burned so often by starting a project I couldn’t finish until after it was useful.

      I could easily go home and work on work every day until I was working full-time, even overtime hours. I don’t. I do email outside of work or stay a few minutes past the end of shift and sometimes finish a few odds and ends (I hate the idea of having spent 2 hours on a project and not getting to implement it because I can’t format it for a few minutes), but not more than 7 minutes per day. And I definitely zone out or do non-work related things at work for more than 7 minutes!

      I have come to think that hourly, part-time just doesn’t really work for tutoring if you’re trying to grow professionally and try to accomplishment more than showing up and doing your shifts every day.

  24. Erin*

    I saw a meme once that said “I make $13 per hour sounds a lot better than I sold an hour of my life for $13.” I work in retail and most stores only get x hours a week, so if you work off the clock you don’t have any leverage on negotiating for more payroll hours. My boss is hourly too (also younger than me, she sometimes takes what little work that can be done at home with her. I tell her she’s crazy) and I think it’s messing with our corporate’s allocation of payroll hours for the week. To the point where we can’t have another person during our busy times and we can’t take breaks during those times so we’re breaking the law by having employees go over 5.5 hours without a break (which is illegal in Michigan, corporate is out of state, so I think things like that are overlooked) I’ve honestly worked 7 hours without a break clocked out for my hour break then clocked back in for 1 hour. It’s stupid, and it felt pointless to take a break I would’ve rather worked that hour and went home early.
    So my rambling point is, this causes a domino effect of problems for the entire staff, not just corporate.

  25. Audiophile*

    This is hard. Most of the positions, I’ve held have been non-exempt. My first post college job was somehow exempt but paid less than $15,000 annually. I know that salary has gone up much, if at all. I don’t know what they’re going when the new regulations go into effect.

    My next set of jobs paid better and were non-exempt, but rarely did I get out exactly when my shift ended. I had to wait to be relieved in most cases. No way would I have been paid for those 5 minutes (10 in some cases). It would have taken numerous trips to the DOL,

  26. Anon3*

    I think the article was great, but unrealistic. My company is constantly sending jobs to other countries. I go above and beyond everyday to get things done and keep my job. In addition, I work in an open office and cherish getting in an hour early for quiet time and get a nice work rhythm going before the distracting noises.

    1. anonny*

      Nothing is preventing you from getting in an hour early and leaving an hour early.

      “Going above and beyond” != causing your employer to violate labor laws.

  27. Feo Takahari*

    With a sufficiently awful company, anything’s on the table. My company has relatively hellish upper management (screaming, public shaming, etc.), and my boss has worked as many as 80 hours in one “40-hour” work week to meet their expectations. I don’t think it’s an option for him to tell them the deadlines they set are unrealistic. The best he can do is try to find another job. (His culinary school training isn’t considered equivalent to a four-year-degree, so most companies he applies for turn him down off the bat.)

  28. New Bee*

    This article is so timely, thanks Alison! I’m a bit late, so I’ll probably re-ask in the next OT, but what about when a job claims “we expect salaried people to work a 50-hour work week” (with most folks averaging 65-70)?

      1. New Bee*

        I figured it was legal–curious if you’ve ever been in that situation and what you did? Everyone around me acts like it’s so normal (and for the record, I was misled about the hours when I was hired), so I feel like I’m in the twilight zone (especially since the work we do doesn’t “need” 50 hours).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s normal in some fields! Just really depends on whether you’re up for that or not. (If you’re not, what to do is a long post of its own.)

          1. New Bee*

            Good call! The particular org I work for is one I know you are somewhat familiar with since you co-authored “Managing to Change the World”, and I’m always curious what things would look like (in terms of how we spend time) if you were running things, since you’re basically my work idol. :-)

  29. Lemon Zinger*

    Okay, I have a few questions.

    I’ve been in my role for nearly six months. I’m exempt and have a salary of $33,500 per year. My boss is a workaholic and sends/answers emails at all hours of the day. I have gotten texts from her at 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., for example. She expects me to be available at all times and on all days– even weekends, for the rare weekend events we have.

    For my mental health, I REALLY need a solid work/life balance. What are my rights, if any? Can I reasonably decline to work an event in the evenings or on weekends? Does the 40 hours standard even apply to my situation?

    I know the overtime law will affect me, thank God. I’ll take overtime pay OR the ability to flex my hours– either is fine. But how can I keep myself sane this fall, when we’ll be very busy?

    1. anonny*

      Nothing your boss is doing is illegal under the FLSA–unfortunately, you just need a better job with a different manager.

  30. BellaBee*

    Hmmm. I feel like this is great advice and I completely understand the legal ramifications behind it. But from my experience working in fledgling non-profits and extremely underfunded government agencies, etc. that are mission driven towards charitable work, this is not only unreasonable but impossible. We all “work” off the clock and nothing will ever change that. We throw everything in, because for most of is it isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle and a moral issue.

    1. Honeybee*

      It’s not impossible, it’s just that people are unwilling to change the work culture there. The higher-ups benefit a lot from the free labor that they’re getting and the less senior employees don’t have as much power to change even if they wanted to.

    2. pomme de terre*

      “For most of is it isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.”

      What about the people who need jobs?! I’ve worked in nonprofits and often the people who don’t care about money have sources of money from outside their jobs, either from parents or high-earning spouses. It can create a real gap between the people who work for the org and the communities an org hopes to serve.

      Also, low pay can cause high turnover which cost the org money in the long run. Even passionate people will get tired of working incredibly long hours for low pay. Nonprofit work is still work and it should be fairly compensated.

  31. Pipes32*

    I agree for most jobs. However, I’m in sales. The more work I put in, the more I get paid in commission.

    I actually have a massive amount of flexibility in my job that I love. I work from home and do not log my hours. The hours are just what it takes to do the job. But, I also have no set hours (some days I’ll sleep in a bit, or take a nap mid-day). I can also cut out early, or go get my haircut in the middle of the day, or whatever. I don’t have to notify anyone. My time is my own. Often I’ll take short 10 minute breaks throughout the day and play a video game to recharge and then back to work.

    On the flip side of all that fun stuff means I work pretty much every evening and every weekend. Not a crazy amount – I’ll keep an eye on my email and answer anything pressing, or catch up on emails if it’s been a busy day, or do something that is needed.

    Works for me, at least.

  32. LizM*

    I fell victim to the “manager has no idea what it takes” situation. It turns out, the person I was hired to replace was working 60 hour weeks without her superviser knowing. When I came in, I worked 40, and productivity plummeted. I felt so incompetent that I couldn’t keep up, until a coworker told me the other employees old hours. I’m exempt but hourly, and I make a point to tell my supervisor if I’m going to have to go over 40 hours now because I don’t want my eventual replacement to get caught up in the same thing.

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