my employer doesn’t pay us for time spent waiting for assignments

A reader writes:

I am an hourly employee who is thankfully still employed during the pandemic. Since we’ve been working from home, we’ve been told that we are to enter into our timesheets only the amount of time we work on tasks. Basically, if a task takes us two hours, we track that and that’s what we get paid for. There seems to be no wiggle room for “waiting around for the tasks to come in,” even though we are expected to be available for work for our typical eight hours per day, minus lunch.

You wrote in a post last week that employers “don’t get to dock your pay when you have a less productive day than usual. Ebbs and flows in people’s productivity is part of employing humans.”

So, is what my company doing legal? If I’m at my computer all day waiting for work to come in, and only a few things come in that take me a total of six hours, do I not get paid for my eight-hour day? If I was in the office, I’d get paid for eight hours, so why not now?

If it is not legal, I’d love some sources I can cite to our HR department. If it IS legal…well that stinks!

It’s illegal and they need to pay you for your time.

Federal law says that if you are “engaged to wait” — meaning you’ve been scheduled for work and have to be at your work site (which right now is your home), at your computer, waiting for work to come in — you need to be paid for that time. You’re on duty, just waiting for work to be assigned.

The Department of Labor says:

When your employee is waiting for work to do … while on duty, he or she is engaged to wait and the time is hours worked.

For example:

• A receptionist who reads a book while waiting for customers or telephone calls.
• A messenger who works a crossword puzzle while awaiting assignments.
• A fireman who plays checkers while waiting for alarms.
• A factory worker who talks to fellow employees while waiting for machinery to be repaired.
• A waitperson in a restaurant waiting for customers to arrive.

… The time is hours worked even though your employee is allowed to leave the premises or the job site during such periods of inactivity. The period during which the inactivity occurs is unpredictable and usually of short duration. In either event, your employee is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. Your employee’s time belongs to and is controlled by you, the employer.

To be off-duty, you must be relieved of your work duties and free to do as you please, including leaving your work site.

You might wonder how this is different from being “on call.” Whether on-call time needs to be paid depends on the specific circumstances, but generally if you’re free to leave your work site and can use the time for your own activities (and aren’t, say, stuck sitting at your computer waiting for work to arrive), you usually don’t need to be paid until you’re called upon to perform actual work. The Department of Labor explains, “Although you may require your employee to be accessible by telephone or paging device, or you may establish rules governing use of alcohol or participation in other activities while your employee is on-call, he or she may still be able to use the on-call time to engage in personal activities, such as cutting the grass, going to the movies, going to a ball game, or engaging in other activities of his or her choosing.”

But you’re not on call. You can’t go to a movie. You’re “engaged to wait,” and the law says you must be paid for that time.

It’s telling that your employer only started this when you switched to working from home. When you were in the office, they knew they needed to pay you for your full work day, even if you had lulls between assignments. That hasn’t changed just because you’ve moved to working from home. If you’re still scheduled for eight-hour work days and expected to be available that whole time, that’s what they need to be paying for you.

Here are sources for your HR department (who really, really should already know this):

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. Fikly*

    I love how employers assume that employees will slack off while working from home, but would they dare to take advantage of their employees? *gasp* Perish the thought!

    Yeah, super, super illegal.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It’s something that makes me ragey. I’ve witnessed plenty of people slacking off in an office when their manager was mere feet away from them. We’ve all done it at one point or another. If you’re all work for the entirety of your job, you’re going to burn out fast. Being at home doesn’t suddenly equate to sitting on the couch eating bon bons and ignoring your computer all day.

    2. Wintermute*

      There’s a reason all many bosses and most CEOs think “if I’m not watching them every moment, they’ll screw me the first chance they get merely on principle.” Because that’s how THEY think.

      Most people, deep down, have trouble externalizing the idea of other people not being like them, they assume other people will do what they would do, because they think they’re rational beings and think most people are too and therefore they’d act like them. An honest man rarely expects to be lied to because he wouldn’t just lie to someone. A crooked double-dealer will read over every contract with a fine toothed comb looking for the hidden loopholes that will screw him, because if HE was writing a contract, that’s what HE would put in it.

      These people assume workers will do the bare minimum and take maximum advantage of their employer because as employers their general strategy is to give the bare minimum and take maximum advantage of their employees.

  2. Wing Leader*

    Oh my. What would they do if you just took naps while you were waiting for tasks? They have no control over your time if they aren’t paying you.

    1. Nanani*

      I’m guessing they’d reprimand you for sleeping on the job. The policy is hypocritical – you’re on the job when they want and not when they have to pay you?
      Yeah report their asses to the relevant labour department, OP.

  3. Katrinka*

    I’m willing to bet they know what they’re doing is wrong, but they’re counting on employees not knowing and/or too afraid of losing jobs to push back.

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      I completely agree with this. Something similar happened in my workplace years ago, and I was like, “Nope, no way, you can’t do this very illegal thing” and got it to stop. I don’t think anyone else would have said something at the time.

    2. Wing Leader*

      Bingo. They know it’s not right based on, like Alison said, the fact that they pay a full 8 hours when OP is actually in the office. Pretty sure they’re trying to cut corners here and save some money. Hopefully pointing out those Department of Labor laws will be enough to nip this in the bud.

    3. Colette*

      I’d guess it’s more that they think “hey, they’re at home anyway, we only need to pay them when they’re working”.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, I can imagine them thinking that you *can* put your time to good use between projects since you’re at home. It’s not even wrong, it’s just that…it doesn’t matter.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah. I mean, they’re wrong, no dispute, I just don’t think it’s necessary to leap to “they’re evilly trying to take advantage of people, and they’ll be too cowed to say anything” Maybe this is their evil plan! But it’s more likely someone just doesn’t understand that there are laws about this kind of thing.

            1. Colette*

              Who made the policy? Because HR will know it’s illegal; an individual manager (even up to the director level) may not.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I’m highly skeptical that it came from the corporate management of a global Fortune 500. I’d be willing to bet money that they told people it had come from corporate and assumed no one would question it.

                  This is nuts. This would cost the company so much more in PR and legal fees if it got out, than they are supposedly saving with this ridiculous “loophole”.

                2. Ping*

                  I would forward the email stating this to corporate legal.

                  I’d say something like. “I’m pretty sure this violates federal law. Can you confirm?”

                  Then stand back and then watch the fun

                3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  Don’t take too many bets that HR isn’t involved!

                  There’s case law about places that are huge and well known who have got caught for wage theft.

                  One was a place that made people clock out when changing into PPE and then again when changing out of it. Unscrupulous people exist in every size of business.

                1. Colette*

                  I disagree. If someone is at home, I can see thinking “we pay them when they’re working, and don’t when they’re not”. The employees can be doing regular life stuff at home during their downtime, which they can’t do when they’re in the office. And some places have reopened, but a lot of us couldn’t go to a movie even if we wanted to, so both work and non-work time is largely spent at home.

                  I mean, it is illegal, but I can see why someone wouldn’t know that.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  except, of course, you also kind of can’t do normal life stuff. You have to be close enough to your computer to be notified when the work comes in. So you can’t go out to the garage and start a project. And even so, in hour-or-so chunks?

                3. Colette*

                  @TootsNYC – that really depends on the job. (What are they waiting for? What’s the SLA?) But even if you can’t start a big project, you can clean the bathroom, do some laundry, bake some cookies, watch TV, read a book … there are a lot of leisure activities that you can do while waiting for work to come in.

                4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

                  @Collette, but if they’re paying them to work an 8 hour day in the office, why would they think it’s any different at home? If you have to be available all day, there’s no way to justify not paying them for their whole day, no matter how much work they do. You can walk away from your desk at work and go chat up a colleague just like you can throw a load of laundry in at home or do the dishes. There is no difference.

                5. Colette*

                  @ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss – right now, when everyone is working from home, the line between “working” and “not working” is smaller than usual, particularly for people whose work is bursty (i.e. who may have time during the day where they have nothing to do). Why should they pay you to watch TV from 1 – 2 but not pay you to watch TV from 5 – 10? If one of those blocks is leisure time, why isn’t the other one?

                  Like I said, I can see the logic, even though it’s wrong.

                6. Amethystmoon*

                  I can’t do anything for more than 15 minutes at a time or my computer screen will say away, and they will rightfully think I’m not there. So I literally cannot be away long enough to do things like chores all day. One has to at a minimum be close enough to move the mouse.

                7. James*

                  ” You can walk away from your desk at work and go chat up a colleague just like you can throw a load of laundry in at home or do the dishes. There is no difference.”

                  Yes, there is. There’s overhead involved in working from an office–lights, heat, internet access, water and sewage, and often amenities like coffee or a refrigerator. At home, in contrast, there’s no overhead. The company’s not paying your electric bill.

                  There’s also networking. Okay, sure, talking to a coworker about our next D&D campaign isn’t likely to be useful to the company, but random conversations can spark ideas that are useful on projects–and often do. There’s a reason why companies want their workers to continue communicating during the pandemic, and “keeping the workers happy” isn’t a top priority. Random conversations in a hallway allow the free exchange of ideas, which is useful to the company in the long run. I have had bosses specifically engineer situations where that can happen, because they see the value in it. I’ve done it myself, especially on jobs with a mix of new hires and old hands.

                  In contrast, at home you could be doing anything. I once had an hour to kill before someone could get back to me, so I helped my wife paint a hallway. I can see someone deciding that not paying for that hour is legitimate, even though I was in a holding pattern waiting for a document. In fact, according to the company policy where I work I couldn’t charge for that hour anyway. Different industries and companies have different policies, and depending on how you’re paid you may or may not be entitled to compensation for an hour spent reading a book waiting for information. It depends on a lot of factors. If someone up the ladder came from a company like mine (also Fortune 500, but likely a different industry from the OP–I’m an exempt consultant), they may genuinely think that their views are correct–because their interpretation was correct at their last three jobs.

                8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  “Why should they pay you to watch TV from 1 – 2 but not pay you to watch TV from 5 – 10? If one of those blocks is leisure time, why isn’t the other one?”

                  Because between 1-2 they can tell you to get off your sofa and groom a (virtual) llama, and after 5pm they can’t.

                  Employers need to understand that they can only have a claim on hours they pay their hourly staff for. If you don’t pay hourly-Eric until 9am, do not expect him to read his email at 8.30am even if salary-Sue has already replied.

                  If employers want the benefit of only paying for hours actually productively worked, they can pay contractor rates (and deal with contractor availability).

                9. Fikly*

                  And yet so many people continue to do things that they are perfectly aware are unethical and illegal.

              1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                HR knows wage theft generally is illegal, yet overall it’s the largest form of theft in terms of dollars lost in the U.S. today; that doesn’t happen if only mom-and-pop shops are doing it.

            2. hbc*

              See, for me, Big Company means that it’s quite likely that someone put out a policy that was crystal clear to them and 100% legal, and someone down the chain misinterpreted, or the higher up had no idea that some workers had work coming in that fashion.

              I mean, I’ve said “We need to cut back on overtime” in a new place and had to clarify that meant keeping people to 40 hours, not just paying them straight time for 40+, and that’s at a 35 person company. Add a few more layers and rounds of the Telephone Game, and who knows what comes out the other side?

              1. noahwynn*

                We had corporate say that one time and my boss interpreted it as “clock out at 40 hours but continue working.” It took a lot of us refusing and fighting back to get him to go to corporate and have them tell him that it was illegal for us to work off the clock, even if we wanted to.

            3. JessaB*

              A global F500 company would also likely have a whistleblower phone number if you don’t want to be the person identified as making a thing of this very illegal stuff they are trying to pull.

          1. James*

            That’s my take on it as well. This sounds like someone was under pressure to cut the budget, and misread guidance. Some jobs you only get paid for work done, and whether downtime counts as work or not depends on a number of factors. It’s actually pretty easy to screw this up, which is why companies hire HR professionals in the first place. This is something I’ve got to watch VERY carefully with new people, as they can very easily run afoul of labor laws when doing contractor oversight. The whole “dictating means and methods” thing is usually the biggest error.

            The leap from “This policy is wrong” to “The company is evil and trying to crush its employees under its boot” is both illogical, and demonstrates that a fair number of folks commenting here haven’t actually done much management. Far too many people assume that corporate (regardless of the corporation) is actively evil and hostile to the workers. My experience is that they’re generally not–corporate is, like the rest of us, overworked, under tremendous strain, and usually trying to pick the least-bad out of a number of bad options. They screw up and make bad choices from time to time. With the sheer number of people involved, we should expect that. Again, that’s the whole point of having professional HR staff.

            1. Colette*

              I agree. And the thing is that telling yourself that the company is evil and trying to take advantage of its employees isn’t a good mindset to have – it can lead you to be actively hostile to management, or to avoid pushing back on things like this, or to try to solve things with a lawyer instead of a conversation.

              1. D3*

                And having a mindset of companies acting all angelic and perfect isn’t a good one to have, either. It can lead you to be exploited and trapped in a horrible toxic workplace.

                1. James*

                  You’re reading into my post things I never put there. Someone screwed up, that much is a given. That means that corporate screwed up–they failed training, they failed oversight, they failed QC.

                  If you think that’s mild, you’re wrong. I’m a QC guy, and no one has less sympathy for folks than someone who’s been there, seen the problems, and not screwed up. This person made a serious error. But without actual evidence of malicious intent, assuming there is such intent blinds you to potential solutions. Look at the people telling the OP to go nuclear over this–calling in regulators and the like! That won’t do good things for the OP’s career, since odds are this is something that can be handled internally. In a Fortune 500 company there are certainly specific mechanisms to allow the company to address these sorts of issues internally.

                  There is a whole world between “mustache-twirling cartoon villain” and “perfect selfless angelic moral saint”. If you think I have a mindset that companies (actually C-suite and upper-level managers) are all angelic and perfect, that says more about your views than mine.

                2. Colette*

                  You should start from the presumption that the company wants to do the right thing because that will get you the best results. You can always go back and decide that they aren’t acting from good faith and take more drastic action later; you can’t undo drastic action after you take it.

            2. I'm just here for the cats*

              Yeah, maybe someone read a policy for on call type of work, or maybe even freelance/contract work and they thought it was for everyone now?

            3. noahwynn*

              “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
              I’d likely replace stupidity with ignornace, but the concept is the same.

          2. D3*

            Oh it’s not *necessary* to jump to that. But it’s also very *reasonable* to jump to that. Corporations do illegal things ALL THE TIME if they think they can get away with it. And a troubled economy and increased job security is absolutely something many, if not most, corporations would totally capitalize on and exploit for their own gain.
            No doubt.

            1. James*

              Do you have evidence–actual evidence, not mere speculation or “These other folks did it”–that this is malice and not a failure of oversight?

              If not, than no, it is NOT reasonable to immediately assume malicious intent. Not by any definition of “reason” I’ve heard. In fact, such “reasoning” is the product of a number of fallacies.

              1. Fikly*

                All the evidence we need is the multitudes of people right now saying that money is more important than human life.

                This is small potatoes compared to that.

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Every single boss I’ve ever had since the age of 20 has tried to screw me over on something. I had to sue one for six months’ worth of unpaid salary, another screwed me out of about 50 hours of overtime, yet another refused to let me leave early (despite having completed my work) to pick up my son on a day when public transport was not working and I’d need two hours to walk back to the daycare place. I was a witness when my colleague sued them for hundreds of unpaid overtime hours. (If I hadn’t had my son to pick up I’d have been made to share that overtime with him.)
                Every single day in the news, you can find evidence of bosses screwing employees over.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ll join you on that bet.

      (My former employers, before Covid, engaged in highly illegal financial stuff and firmly believed nobody would ever speak up. Boy were they surprised when I showed up as a witness for the prosecution in the high court…)

      1. TardyTardis*

        Then there was the auto shop that double billed insurance and the customer for work done and my friend the bookkeeper who just discovered the scheme…and I told her to run, because when he finally got caught–why, it was all the bookkeeper’s fault!

    5. Artemesia*

      they will fire the first few people who do and voila, wage theft becomes the norm.

  4. HR Person*

    I truly cannot fathom when I see posts like this and find out they HAVE an HR department. If they don’t know this, what else don’t they know?

    1. Fikly*

      Oh, they know. That’s why they didn’t do it until they were working from home, because it’s more convincing to the employees then.

      1. NeverNicky*

        And harder for the employees to talk about it, organise and push back as a group.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Businesses in general are champs at the “Sorry, we thought we could get away with this but apparently we can’t. We apologize.” maneuver

      1. merp*

        Right, this. Companies trying to get away with stuff is the reason most labor laws probably exist in the first place. I’m glad you’re pushing back on it, OP!

    3. Threeve*

      Sometimes HR departments aren’t there to know and enforce what is and isn’t legal–they’re there to asses risk of consequences and base decisions strictly on that. Think Ford Pinto.

      My employer is pretty decent, all things considered, but my HR department tiptoes right up to the line sometimes, and it’s absolutely a calculation. Things like saying “your timesheet can’t be processed if it isn’t submitted by Monday” but not outright falsely claiming that paychecks could be delayed.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      It’s also … possible? that the HR folks don’t know this is what the LW and their coworkers are being told, and it’s just a manager gone rogue and that if HR knew, they’d appropriately blow their stack. (I don’t know that that’s LIKELY, in this world where cannibal rats and murder hornets are among the least of our concerns, but it’s at least possible.)

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, it’s possible that someone in the management chain thought this would be OK (and budget-saving) and didn’t run it by the people who would know what is legal.

        1. SweetestCin*

          I’ve seen something similar to this (one department developed an app for time tracking, when legal got around to it there was a lot of “yeah, no, you can’t ask employees to do that”). Someone thought it was “the right thing to do”, rolled it out without consulting HR/legal departments, lots of backtracking over it because the company was indeed big enough “to know better”.

          1. Chinook*

            I have too. It is the one and onky time I have ever gotten an apology from a manager because I reported her to her manager who was appalled at the wage law being broken. It helped that I was willing to loose the job and take it up with labour board. I know how badly it could have gone for me if it had been corporate policy and not a rogue manager, but I also knew my labour law.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        The murder hornets are innocent on the charge of manslaughter! They don’t kill humans any more than your average hornet, the murder appellation is because they methodically murder entire hives of bees.

        1. Eukomos*

          I don’t think that’s right, their stings can cause fatal reactions. They kill like 50 people a year in Japan, where they’re native.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            No. There are absolutely no sources for that statistic. On average, they kill less than thirteen people a year in Japan, not 50. Their stings can cause fatal reactions, but only in people who would have had a fatal reaction from any other type of wasp. For comparison, yellow jackets kill about 3o people in the US annually, but we don’t call them murder wasps.

            (link to the snopes article will be in reply)

              1. KoiFeeder*

                That’s fair. After they chewed into the walls of my bedroom, I’m not super pleased with them myself.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t think this is unlikely at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if some regional manager thought he was creating some laudable cost savings to get himself in the C-suite’s good graces and that this is neither “from corporate” nor in the loop with HR.

    5. HR Jeanne*

      Exactly. This is HR 101. But HR is advisory, and it’s very possible they did tell leaders about this and the decision was made to move forward anyway. Sometimes businesses do stupid, illegal things when they know perfectly well that it is illegal and don’t care until someone calls them on it.

    6. Ana Gram*

      Honestly, many places have HR but they handle specific tasks like worker’s comp and benefits and that kind of thing. Neither of the HR liaisons we have are certified and neither has a formal education in HR. I doubt they would know this stuff. I’m hopeful that they’d think to look it up but who knows.

      1. Fikly*

        Did you read the update where it’s a Fortune 500 company? There is no way they don’t know.

        1. Marika*

          Oh, I disagree. One of the things that happened in big companies is someone gets a ‘bright idea’; maybe runs it by one level up boss, who thinks ‘yeah that makes sense, let’s do it’; and then they roll it out to their underlings, saying ‘oh yeah this is the new company policy’… Mostly so that if it works, they get to take credit. HR isn’t consulted, legal REALLY isn’t consulted, and when it blows up, everyone goes ‘but HR/legal must have known’. Nope, nope nope.

          I’ve got a friend who was an assistant general counsel for one of the ‘Fortune 100’ companies. Multinational, several thousand people – the whole nine. She got an email one day from a gent in a different city’s office saying ‘our boss just announced this, and it doesn’t seem right’. She and the general counsel were in with the head of HR in 20 minutes and with the entire C suite in under an hour. Not only was it not right, it was massive lawsuit waiting to happen… And no, no one outside that boss’ team had heard anything about it before he got his bright idea.

          The guy who notified them got a big bonus and a promotion, btw.

          1. Texan In Exile*

            The HR person who eliminated my position had a psych degree (no disrespect to psych majors!) and nothing else. She was not a member of SHRM. She did not have an MBA or any advanced degree related to HR. She had six years corporate experience and she was director level. (Who does that? Who makes a 30 year old a director level at a 100 year old global manufacturing company?)

            When I mentioned to her (among many other things) that it might not be a good look that the position they were eliminating happened to be the one of the only woman on the team who was over 50, she pretty much shrugged. Either she was a stone-cold negotiator or she was just dumb.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      I’m assuming it’s the same concept as “you HAVE an environmental department, what do you mean you poured that down the sink???!!” Well, they just ran with it and the environmental department hasn’t yet found out because no one told them and no one from the City tested for that contaminant, so we hadn’t gotten cited (yet).

      Days like that where I had to close my office door and headdesk for a little bit.

  5. jm*

    how are people supposed to pay their bills if their hours go from seven or eight a day to like two? i know they don’t care, but these limbo situations are the worst. you can’t get benefits because you’re working, but you can’t support yourself either.

    1. Natalie*

      This is super bs but it’s important to note that you generally *can* get benefits if your hours or rate of pay are cut significantly.

  6. Dackquiri*

    Maybe a hot take, but this is exactly why I felt there should be *some* legislatively mandated minimum compensation for hours spent on call. Can you really go to the movies if you could pay for your ticket (and your date/family’s) and then wind up having to leave before the previews? Can you really make plans as if people don’t mind being bailed on last minute (or any point during)? Even though the shift may pass without a call or any actual work needing to be done, that’s still a chunk of time the worker was not free to live their life, and if they’re paid hourly, that time should be compensated.

    1. anon24*

      I agree. I used to have a job where I was on call after hours every other week and I hated it. I was paid $100 a week just for being on call, and got mileage/hourly if I actually had to go into work, so I did get compensation, but it was awful. I wasn’t called in often, but it was like magic, every time I tried to do something the phone would go off. I couldn’t really go to the movies because of this, I couldn’t go on a 5 mile hike, I wasn’t free to go more than 45 minutes or so away from work (and I already lived almost 45 minutes away so I had to be very careful where I went), and I had to make sure I always was somewhere with a stable internet connection to dial into the systems if there was an issue (this was in the early days of smartphones and the company did pay to upgrade my phone and part of my phone bill). I felt like I only got to live my life freely half the time and I honestly only agreed to do it because before there was one person who was on call every day year round and they were understandably burning out hard.

    2. BRR*

      I strongly agree with this. It’s the US, at least there’s something in place. But being on call isn’t even close to being not at work. I remembered there was a case involving Lady Gaga and her assistant (after searching turns out it was form 2013 but I thought it was a lot more recent, oy!) where the assistant sued to be paid while on call. There were some details that were specific to the case but the two parties ended up settling before trial.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Ugh, I missed that one.

        Every time I hear stuff like this, I swear that if I ever need an assistant I will damn well either pay them if I need them to be on call or leave them the hell alone after they put in their hours.

    3. Jay*

      I’m a doc so on-call is part of my life. This is my first job ever (in 30 years) where I’m paid for being on-call even if I don’t get called. And yes, it’s hugely constraining. It’s no big deal that I can’t drink. It’s a bigger deal that I can’t make any plans for weekday evenings when I’m on call and I’m hesitant to make weekend plans. Whatever plans I do make can’t include the movies, or theater. Weekly choir rehearsal is always anxiety-provoking. If we go to a local baseball game or to a friend’s house, we take two cars and I don’t wear blue jeans or shorts (not allowed to wear either of those when I’m seeing patients). It gets old. I can tolerate being inconvenienced so my patients can get the care they need. I would not tolerate it for any other reason. This is part of the reason I went into medicine in the first place – there’s bullshit with any job, and I knew I’d have a much harder time tolerating the bullshit if I were doing something else.

    4. Nikki*

      Yes, I agree. My sister worked in retail for years and most of her employers took advantage of the on-call loophole. They would schedule the absolute minimum number of people to staff the store, and put the rest on call. Then, if it was a busy day or got busy later in the shift, they’d call people in. It worked great for the store, who saved a lot of money by passing on the risk of unpredictable customer traffic to their employees, who would be stuck at home, unpaid, and unable to really make plans — including working a second job to make up for the lack of pay. And of course, if you missed an on-call shift, you could be fired. Gross.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Both myself and my mom worked together at a grocery store in our small town. She was hired as one of the night managers. There wasn’t any on call type of system but they treated us like there was. It seemed like anytime I was off I would get a call. It was.worse for my mom because she was the only manger that lived in town so they knew she could be there in 5 minutes. Once they called me and I was in another state and they were like oh when can you get here? Umm not until my next scheduled shift because I can’t have my mom.and step dad turn around just to work for you guys.

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I feel this way as well. My father was on call most of my childhood, and I remember so many times when he had to suddenly drop whatever he was doing, look at his pager, and find a pay phone (or later, use his cell phone) to see if he could avoid going into work if we were out someplace, or go dial into work from home if we were home (we had a computer with a modem starting in the 80s for this purpose).

      I chose a different, lower-paying field rather than his so I wouldn’t have to live that way. He was salaried and in a highly-paid field, so I suppose it was “fair” to have them steal his family time like that (it didn’t feel fair to me as a kid regardless, since I didn’t have priority on my own father’s time even when we made special plans, but that’s a different issue than the financial one), but doing it to someone who isn’t making highly compensated employee kinds of money is appalling.

    6. Tau*

      I’ve recently started on-call work and I’m getting paid for it – in my country it’s required. I’m glad, because I really underestimated how intrusive it would be. I have separate mandated time-to-acknowledge and time-to-start-working and the time to start working is fairly generous, but I still regularly catch myself going “oh right, I’m on call that day so I can’t cycle out because I’m not sure if I’d have network/I’m not sure I can head down to the shop because what if I miss the notification?/etc.” And that’s during COVID.

  7. Employment Lawyer*

    TL/DR: It’s illegal.

    The relevant stuff talks about the distinction between “waiting to be engaged” (not usually paid) versus “being engaged to wait” (must generally be paid).

    What you describe is work which must be paid. You should contact a local employment specialist. You can raise a fuss yourself; can raise a fuss with the help of an attorney; or can raise a fuss retroactively if you’re thinking of leaving later. All have pros and cons; chat with a lawyer first.

    As always, you MAY also want to consider the harsh realities on the ground. Think about not just what the employer is doing now, but also what they WILL do if they find out this is illegal.

    Maybe you’d be happier if you were paid by the hour and were free not to be near your desk when you weren’t getting paid, even if everyone’s total pay dropped. Maybe you’d be happier being paid for all your time, but having the employer drop salaries by 15%. Maybe you’d be better off living with this for a year, finding a new job, and suing retroactively. Or not. But you should never assume that only you can move pieces on the chessboard: Yes, you can force your employer to pay you, but that may produce other actions which you should consider.

    Only you know the pros/cons, but I always make sure my clients think about the future before they start sending nasty letters. Talk to a lawyer.

    1. OP*

      I haven’t sent any letters to anyone yet, just Alison :-)

      AND, I don’t intend to, unless they push back or question why I am putting the full day on my timesheet.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        You really should talk to someone.

        For example: Here, out of the vast universe of options, you seem to be planning to “ignore their orders and submit time cards for a full workday.”

        This MIGHT be what a lawyer would tell you after a chat (after knowing your state laws, and your status, and your employer, and so on) but all I will say to a non-client is that it did not instantly strike me as the tactic I would advise as a first choice.

        So while YMMV, I would really consider talking to someone. And this is usually true generally but is ESPECIALLY true if you work for a Fortune 500 company: anyone who specializes in employee-side representation, would talk to you for free.

        Should you change your mind, I suggest starting w/ state-level folks who have at least some association w/their Employment Lawyers’ Association which, despite its inclusive-sounding name, is all about employee rep.

        Most states have their own chapter.

        Google “[your state] NELA employment” or “[your state] employment lawyer association” and you should find them. You can also find lawyers through NELA at, but not all good state lawyers are also NELA members.

  8. OP*

    OP here…thanks for responding!

    The funny thing is, my company is a Fortune 500 company. We are huge/global, and I cannot understand why they’d even take this risk. I’ve been putting the full 8 hours on my timesheet because I had an inkling that it was not legal, and was going to wait for them to push back, but no one has spoken up yet. I know some of my colleagues that I’m close with have also been putting the straight 8 hours, but I’m not sure about the others. I hope they’re putting 8 hours as well!

    1. autumnal*

      Good for you, OP! And anyone who wasn’t paid for a full 8 hours should be given back pay from whenever they implemented this moronic policy.

      1. OP*

        I wholeheartedly agree, but I think there’s going to be a lot of people who won’t speak up for fear of losing their jobs. We lost a couple of people in our department already so I know people are afraid. I just sent a mass text to some of the people I know and told them to pass around the links Alison posted. Hopefully they start putting accurate time on their timesheets going forward!

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Any chance it’s a rogue manager telling you this, and not someone higher up the food chain?

      1. OP*

        It’s my manager telling me this, but HER manager was on the call too when this “policy” was announced.

        Someone above hit the nail on the head, I think the company is counting on people not knowing this isn’t legal, and also not pushing back.

        Which – I’m not going to push back either, but I’m also going to be putting 8 hours every single day (unless I truly take PTO or something like that).

        1. tangerineRose*

          This is a very scummy thing for your company to do. Sorry you’re having to deal with that.

        2. Hillary*

          At my large employer, this would call for a quiet word with someone in HR. My current generalist is awesome so I’d probably talk to her, but I might also go outside my immediate group. The other option is to talk to a trusted manager from another team.

          This would be cause for discipline and possibly removal of the managers involved. This is wage fraud and is both a legal liability and a terrible look for the company. Have they said this stuff in writing?

            1. Mannheim Steamroller*

              Good. Now that it’s in writing, you can keep a copy for your files and forward it to all relevant agencies plus your attorney.

        3. Reader*

          You may not want to push back, but I’m thinking there may be colleagues who are just going to roll over because they don’t know it’s illegal. I would encourage you to inquire with HR and/or corporate legal, and/or report to the state. It needs to be addressed sooner rather than later because now more than ever people really need their jobs and need to be paid fairly.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      You may want to consider reporting them to your Department of Labor. It might take a while, but the DOL will absolutely slap their hands, make them pay back pay if appropriate, etc.

      1. Chinook*

        DOL may also add in a possible timecard audit from the labour board to ensure no other funny business.

    4. Fikly*

      So they 100% know what they are doing.

      I sure hope this ends up in a lawsuit (in a safe way for you), the fallout for them will be glorious.

      1. Colette*

        Maybe, but unless this is an official policy (communicated by corporate/HR), it’s possible that there’s a manager who just doesn’t know how this stuff works.

    5. Nesprin*

      When dealing with a big organization with lawyers on staff, documentation wins. So- any and all emails about this policy, and notes of meetings when this policy was introduced/who was on call should go somewhere you’ll have access even if fired.

    6. Free Meerkats*

      Given the size of your company, there’s a ombudsman or an anonymous tip line. Give them/that a call. If not, give a call to HR and tell them what’s going on. Let whomever you call know that this is their only chance to fix this before you call the state.

      Or, as I would do, skip call and just go directly to the state.

  9. OP*

    I have a followup from a colleague:

    The colleague asked the manager about what we should put on our timesheet if we were short hours, and they were told to either “take it unpaid, or you can use your PTO.”

    Anyone know if THIS is legal?

      1. Fikly*

        If you’re taking PTO, they cannot then tell you to work during that time. So if you are told you have, say, four hours of work at the start of your shift, you work four hours, and then at hour six a new task comes in, well, you’re on PTO, and they’re out of luck.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think that’s how the law actually works, though. AFAIK, there are no laws in the US that say you can’t work on PTO. (I mean, you shouldn’t because the “O” part of PTO implies you’re not working, but I don’t think it’s illegal.)

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            no, but they cannot require you to work on PTO. In other words, if you are expected to be there and available as soon as a task comes up, then they cannot require the employee to count that as PTO time. The Department of Labor and the courts would look very unkindly on this attempt to flout the law.

        2. Chinook*

          There probably is also a minimum shift requirement. In Alberta, if you are called in but sent home early, you have to be paid for the hours worked or 3 hours, whichever is greater. So, if the employer is poor at planning an is overstaffed or wants you in for only a one hour meeting, they still owe you 3 hours wages.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Only California has a 4 hour minimum rule on the books if this is US based.

            Other states can make you come in for 45 minute shifts if they wanted to try it. It’s frequent in the restaurant industry, they over-staff and then start cutting people as necessary.

            *Unless it’s in a CBA, lots of CBAs do have shift minimum requirements built in of course.

          2. Just zis guy, you know?*

            If OP is in CA (either one) you’re probably right, but if they’re in the States and aren’t in California then you’re probably seriously overestimating the protections provided to employees. My state is relatively worker friendly (as far as the US goes, at least) and does not mandate any minimum shift pay.

    1. Picard*

      I dont see how this is any different? If you’re sitting there waiting for work to come in, they have to pay you. You therefore would not be short on your hours.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Assuming you’re in the US, there are no laws (barring some specific state laws, hi California) about how they have to give PTO, and nothing preventing them from deducting from it however and whenever they want.

    3. BRR*

      Assuming you’re in the US, there aren’t any national laws regarding PTO and few local/state laws. So your employer docking PTO is likely legal but they still need to pay for the hours worked. The company can (likely) legally say we’re paying you but also subtracting six hours from your PTO.

        1. OP*

          This exactly. Some of us don’t have a lot of PTO to be using to supplement the hours they don’t want to pay us!

    4. Employment Lawyer*

      It really depends on information which is not in your post and which I would not ask you to post on a public forum.

      This is actually a pretty complex area of law. While some things are really obvious there are a lot of edge cases and you may be one of them.

  10. WellRed*

    I’m surprised to learn you actually have HR. I can’t believe they let this happen. Also, you are entitled to back pay for all the hours you didn’t get paid since this started.

  11. Persephone Underground*

    “The time is hours worked even though your employee is allowed to leave the premises or the job site during such periods of inactivity. ” Is this a typo? It seems in the examples the employees would *not* be allowed to leave the premises, and that is mentioned as part of the distinction later as well. I got the gist anyway, but wanted to flag in case Alison wanted to clarify or correct a missing negative in there somewhere. I suppose it could also be correct but it’s a bit confusing in the context of the rest of the explanation.

    1. TootsNYC*

      what it means is, if it’s OK for your worker to step out for a cup of coffee in that lull, you have to pay them.

      of course you are free to tell them that they can’t, but if they ARE allowed to (“sure, Joe–the next Widget won’t come for a little while–go grab a cuppa”), it doesn’t change the fact that they are really still working for you.

    2. CatLadyLawyerEsq*

      you would be allowed to leave the premises for your lunch break, for example. Or for a ten minute run to a post office/other quick errand. Or a walk around the block.

    3. noahwynn*

      I like to give the example of when I was a paramedic. While waiting for a call we were staged at intersections throughout the city. We just had to be within 1/4 mile of the intersection, so we could go to the library, shop, eat, bascially whatever we wanted while we waited. However, when we got the call we had to drop everything and go. If we were waiting for food we left without it and hopefully got to come back later. If shopping we would leave the cart where it was and go immediately to the ambulance.

    4. Persephone Underground*

      Got it- I thought it could be what you explained (just because they can technically leave doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them), but wasn’t sure given the context. Thanks! Hope the clarification helped others who might have been a bit confused anyway.

  12. JM in England*

    Using the employer’s twisted logic, does it mean that an emergency services worker who gets no calls on their shift gets paid nothing?

    1. noahwynn*

      My first job as an EMT (I was 18) we were not paid between 10pm and 6am unless we got a call. The reasoning given was that we got a full night’s rest. Years later, after I was working elsewhere, I got a letter in the mail from the DOL along with a large check for back pack and penalties. I was young at the time and just accepted it, sure we complained about it, but not to the state. Well, someone finally complained to someone that mattered and it really did benefit us all.

      1. Koala dreams*

        It’s a sad story, but I’m happy that someone complained and you got money!

  13. Julies*

    How does this work with contracted employees? My husband just started a new job as a contractor and he finds that his manager is amazingly difficult to get ahold of. He’ll send some work over for final approval and then feels like he’s sitting on his hands waiting for the rest of the day to hear back. He could get IMed at any time of the day. Does anyone have any resources or any insight? He’s only supposed to be part time but finds that he can’t get anything else done.

    1. Chinook*

      When I have been on contract, I played by the same rules. If they aren’t ready when they tell me to be available, then the cost is on them, not me because I potentially turned down other work to be there at their request.

      Now, if they send me home , I legally can’t charge them the 3 hours for a minimum shift, but I can definitely charge them for the travel time becuse their decision cost me my time.

      Your husband should check his contract to see if their are exceptions, but he should be safe to assume he has been engaged to wait.

    2. Sharon*

      If someone is really a contractor, they set their own hours. Therefore, it would be entirely reasonable for a contractor to send something off for feedback and resume working on it the next day, or the next week. For example, if you have contractors remodeling your house and they reach a point where they need input from you before proceeding, they will likely go home for the day if they can’t reach you right away, and they won’t rush back to your house when you call back a couple hours later.

    3. Sharon*

      If someone is really a contractor, they set their own hours. Therefore, it would be entirely reasonable for a contractor to send something off for feedback and resume working on it the next day, or the next week. For example, if you have contractors remodeling your house and they reach a point where they need input from you before proceeding, they will likely go home for the day if they can’t reach you right away, and they won’t rush back to your house when you call back a couple hours later.

    4. Koala dreams*

      If the manager is slow to send work and difficult to get hold of, all the more reason to spend time finding and doing work for other clients. I know that the economy is bad right now, but that makes it even more important to be proactive and not give up. Maybe there are other types of clients, or other types of work, to explore? Job applications to write? Sitting on your hands when work is drying up is the worst response. As a contractor you often don’t have any expenses to cut other than your own salary, so it’s important to look for new income streams.

      It might be a good idea to make a schedule for yourself to structure the work day a little. Carve out time to answer messages, to send invoices, to look for new clients, and so on.

    5. Jojo*

      Check the IRS definition of contractor and see if it really fits what hubsvis doing. Make sure he is not misclassified.

  14. TootsNYC*

    I think I’d go straight to the State Labor Department, and not stop at HR first.
    Especially if I can be anonymous with the state investigators.

    I wouldn’t want to run the risk of retaliation.

  15. SusanIvanova*

    There’s an xkcd for that: #303 “The #1 programmer excuse for legitimately slacking off: ‘My code’s compiling.'”

    As it happens, right now I’m compiling.

  16. HailRobonia*

    This reminds me of a few years ago a director (of another team) in our department got really upset when my team was gathering in the front office to go across campus for a meeting. “You could be working instead of waiting!” she said.

    I was much meeker back then. I wish I said “1: You are not our boss. 2: We are salaried. 3: Mind your own damn business!”

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Like it’s the fault of the person who gets there in time that they’re waiting for those who are late!

      Once we were at head office for a meeting and had to remind our boss of the time so we wouldn’t miss the train back home. We left just in time, and after walking as briskly as possible with our luggage, got to the station with ten minutes to spare. The boss was pissed off that she couldn’t have spent those ten minutes continuing to talk with head office staff. Difference between her and us: we had lives, partners, children and activities to get back to.

  17. Constance Lloyd*

    This is FASCINATING to me because one time when I was the only team member working from home, IT accidentally terminated my account instead of someone who had quit. I sat at my computer for those couple of hours, attempting to log in every few minutes, because it was our busy season and I wanted to be able to get back to it as I possibly could. I had a coworker who was so livid I got paid, she repeatedly complained to HR for weeks until they finally told her to knock it off… and she quit. Right there, in the spot on a Tuesday morning. She quit without notice and lost her shot at references because HR wouldn’t break labor laws!

    1. Jay*

      Wow. Wow. That brings cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to a whole ‘nother level.

    2. Sue*

      Other post had lots of discussion about “hills to die on”. That was a bizarre one!

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Honestly, she had a lot going on and became a toxic presence because of it, but ultimately she thought I was getting preferential treatment by being allowed to wfh and she wasn’t happy.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I used to work on a government contract and got paid (more often than not) to just be available if anything came up. That time was booked to the client, because I was available to them if needed. And there were also times when I had laptop troubles and physically could do nothing but wait for IT to fix my issue – that got booked to my company under “admin”. If I’m expected to be available from 9-5, then I’m getting paid for those 8 hours whether I was twiddling my thumbs or working every second.

    4. I'm just here for the cats*

      Wow! Maybe she is now working for OP’s company! That is so stupid. You were working, you were trying to login. That would have been no different than if the internet/phone system went down in the office and she couldn’t do anything. (This happened to everyone in my city a few years ago because a fiber got cut) Would she have expected to not have gotten paid?

    5. emmelemm*

      It never fails to boggle my mind how invested some coworkers are in *other people’s business*, like if they took PTO for a doctor’s appointment, or they take six trips to the bathroom a day, or, perhaps, their computer went down and yet they still got paid…

      Worry about your own self!

    6. MissDisplaced*

      My work computer forced pushed a big Microsoft install that tool 4 hours to complete.
      You get paid for that! I didn’t set it to do that on work hours, IT did.

  18. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    In this covid situation, I would think it could be scary to point this out to HR or the employer for fear of losing my job. The company is trying to save money at the employees expense. Employer may even be thinking they are doing the employees a favor by continuing to employ them (they’re not). I’m not normally a proponent of going this route, but in this case I’d lean toward messaging HR anonymously.

    1. Fikly*

      No, skip HR entirely, go right to the DOL.

      If they do fire you, document, document, document, go right to an employment lawyer, and enjoy the fruits of their crimes.

  19. I'm just here for the cats*

    In some thread below, I’ve lost it now, but someone made the comment about being at home you can do regular stuff they can’t in the office, which that’s why the company thinks that since they are at home they only have to pay for time working, while at the office yiu can’t so they would pay for 8 hours when they only work for 3. Someone had made the example of putting laundry in, doing dishes, etc. I would like to point out that when it’s slow at the office you can do these type of things too. I’ve cleaned my entire desk area, including my chair. Re organized drawers, Cleaned other areas that don’t get a lot of attention ( think door knobs keyboards for multiuser areas) and stuff like that. I don’t see me putting cloths into the dryer any different than taking time to clean desk area.

    Also you are assuming that the person can do these things. They might not have in house laundry. Or theyir roommate or spouse may also WFH and can’t run a vacume because they are in calls all day.
    The company needs to pay them in full

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve seen employees sit and chat all day or plan parties and games, decorate, etc. People will slack anywhere.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Yes everyone can slack, but to automatically assume because they are now WFH that they are not working or slacking off is really bad mangament. Especially if they normally have dead times between assignments.
        What I was getting at is that when working at the office they weren’t “working” all 8 hours because they still had the same Downtime that they are getting WFH. They need to lay the employees for all 8 hours not just the few hours it took for assignments.

        Also, you say that you’ve seen employees sit all day chatting, planning parties, etc. Were you watching these employees ALL DAY LONG? I could argue that you weren’t working if you were keeping tabs on your coworkers.

    2. Wintermute*

      That’s true, but I think the state dept of labor or whomever else is the controlling body where you are would then view your home as the “work site” and say if you can’t leave your home and go to… well there’s not many places to go, it’s not like you’d be able to go to a movie, but if you can’t go for a walk, go to a theoretical movie (drive-in?), go to the theoretical library (drive-thru?) then you’re still not able to freely leave your “work site”.

    3. Amethystmoon*

      It may depend upon how one’s computer is set up. Mine says away after you are gone for 15 minutes, so I set a timer on Alexa for 14 and a half minutes if I’m going to do anything. I might throw some dishes in the dishwasher or do some exercises indoors. But I wouldn’t leave the apartment complex, that would be far too risky. Certainly, I couldn’t go to a movie theater or anything like that.

    4. Koala dreams*

      That’s true, and cleaning your desk and sorting paper clips counts as work too, it would be ridiculous to tell you to do those things in your time off.

      The important thing is that you are employed to work those hours, you are not free to do whatever you want.

  20. Working Hypothesis*

    That’s weird. I’m a massage therapist, and my entire industry does this, but I’ve always been told that it’s okay so long as your total compensation divided by your total number of hours (including waiting) equals more than minimum wage. We get paid about $25-45/hands-on hour (depending on experience and how high-end the clinic is we work at; also whether or not we get tips on top of our wages), but we only get paid for hands-on hours. Time between clients, whether it’s the standard 15min turnaround time to clean and change over our rooms and study the next client’s chart notes or a longer period because we don’t have a client scheduled in that time slot, we just… don’t get paid. We are expected to remain on the premises in case a walk-in client appears unexpectedly.

    What I was taught by the legal experts in massage school, and by everyone since in my whole industry, is that this is legal so long as you end up still getting more than what would be minimum wage for every hour you’re there. So, if I get $30/hour for an eight-hour shift in which I have four clients and four hours of down time, I’m still making $15/hour for every hour I was required to be at the clinic, and that’s above minimum wage (though only just, in my area), so it’s all right.

    Is this incorrect? Or does it actually work this way for certain categories of work that include mine but not OP’s? Or what?

    1. MentalEngineer*

      If I understand how this normally works, lots of service business like hairdressing, massages, tattooing, etc. are legally organized so that every person doing the service is an independent contractor and not an employee of the company that owns the premises, does the booking, and so on. Setups like yours are sometimes legal for contractors but not for employees, which is one of several reasons these industries use the contractor structure. Misclassification is rampant – you may have been told you are a contractor when, legally speaking, you should be considered an employee. You’d have to talk to an employment attorney to get a better idea.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Thanks for the suggestion about what it might be, MentalEngineer! A lot of massage therapists are indeed officially designated independent contractors — although from what I’ve personally experienced, this hasn’t been done in a misclassifying way… the clinics that use the IC model really do generally allow you a lot more freedom in the specific ways that define the difference according to Alison. I remember going down the checklist she posted years ago, when I really was listed as an independent contractor, and concluding that my clinic was getting it right.

        But I’m officially an employee, as are the rest of this particular clinic’s staff. We learned in business class at massage school about the differences between clinics that work on an employee model and those which work on an IC model, because there are a lot of both out there and we needed to know what to look for if it mattered to us either way.

        Even though some clinics consciously and deliberately use the contractor model and some just as deliberately use the employer model, they ALL pay in hands-on hours.

        I have no idea how this works. I’m inclined to believe that am entire industry can’t be that blatantly illegal, especially since they’ve apparently taken some care to do this in ways they claim make it okay… but I’m not seeing how to square the circle and figure out what makes it viable.

        1. Plant*

          They are presumably using “piece-rate” pay, meaning you are paid for accomplishing some sort of unit of work. There are rules to handle overtime and minimum wage, but it’s a legitimate way to pay a non-exempt employee.

  21. Tina*

    I wonder what can the OP and the co-workers do about back pay? Working from home started in mid/late March and we are now in June. All those hours add up. How would the employees go about getting that back pay?

  22. Jessica*

    My county had a newly elected county executive a few years ago. First snow storm of her term, she did not make the call to close until after 10am. Multiple tractor trailers jackknifed, effectively stopping the flow of traffic into the city. People were trapped in their cars for hours while everything was cleared up. The next day, we got an email that was probably the end to her career. People who made it into work on time and left early, got paid for the day. People who were late getting in, regardless of circumstance, only got paid for the time they worked. So people who were a few minutes late got an hour or two of pay and have to use PTO for the rest. People who did not make it into the office, regardless of reason, had to use PTO for the whole day. I never left home, so was fine with that for me. But the idea that those trapped in their cars for 4+ hours had to use PTO because of worry that a small number of people would claim they’d been stuck abusing that exception. Also the difference of a few minutes was whether you had to us PTO or not for those who did make it in.

  23. Sharon*

    Yes! Often people who have been employees in the past have a hard time understanding the difference between a boss/manager and a client when they become a contractor. As a contractor, YOU are in control of your time, and if your client doesn’t give you what you need to keep working on their project, they will simply need to wait until you are next available (and you MUST schedule personal time or you’ll never get to do anything – you don’t need to explain what you are doing to your client or have a good reason for not being available – just explain when you’re available to work on their project and negotiate a timeline you’ll be able to meet). Obviously you should keep your client happy, but if their expectation is that you’ll be available for their work 24/7, you need to charge accordingly.

  24. Nessa*

    This is interesting, as I work for a small company and have been working from home since April. All our hours were cut and the business is only open 3 days a week now. I’ve been tracking my hours on some paper near my desk, and until recently, I’ve only been clocking my “working” hours, as in the time spent on tasks, or looking at emails and whatnot, despite sitting at my desk for the better part of the day, waiting for clients or my boss to get back to me. My boss is pretty terrible about answering my messages, so I end up waiting all day with no response. And sometimes there’s just no more work for me to do at the moment, so I sit at my desk to be available should anything come up.

    I have since started tracking the time I am at my desk and logged in, even if there is no active work for me to do. My boss recently got the small business benefits from the Canadian government so he could afford to keep paying us, so I’m just going to track things how I should have been all along.

  25. Lyric*

    I have a similar issue in that I am a ‘billable’ worker. Think a lawyer who has to bill time worked to clients, though that is not my industry nor my job. I am also not responsible for gaining work or clients, I am in a specific niche within the industry (think PR for lawyers or something). However I have to have 40 hours in my timesheet and I have to bill those to clients. But I don’t often have work, especially now. I still think I ought to be paid when in the office waiting for work, especially when there’s nothing i can do to get work for myself. However when I approached my boss, he said that I just need to work slower or ask someone for more work. But I have a limited number of hours I can bill to a specific client. What do I do? I like being busy and I’ve often gone to others asking for work just so I can be paid. Any advice?

  26. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    This reminds me of a time when I was supposed to be taking paid leave but the client had an extra bit of work and it wouldn’t make sense for anyone but me to do it. I agreed to do the work from home. It would be sent to me before ten and they needed me to work on it straightaway and get it back by 11. Perfectly doable, about 30 min work if all went smoothly.
    In the end I was checking my computer all morning, finally got the stuff at about 11.30. I did the work and handed it in at 12, the client was happy. I logged an hour into my overtime sheet, reasoning that the extra half-hour would compensate for the fact that I hadn’t been able to nip out to the shops or take my kids to the park or anything all morning and had had to log in regularly (this was before smartphones could give you a notification).
    Later on I wanted to use the extra time off accrued by working overtime and showed the boss my overtime sheet. He started by calculating 8 hours for every day, but I pointed out that I only did 6 hours a day so he should only count that. He started bullshitting me, and I remarked that it was funny how he always forgot I was part-time when it came to things like this, but never forgot when he had to do my pay slip.
    Then he saw that extra hour accrued, and queried it. “How do I know you spent an hour working at home?” Well of course I could prove that I had done so, the emails were there, but I was incensed that he could accuse me of trying to steal an hour’s pay. I’d been working for him for at least ten years at that point, and he had never had cause to accuse me of any kind of dishonesty, I was by far his most productive worker, it was a tiny firm so it wasn’t like he had no idea where I was or what I was doing… so questioning my honesty was a huge insult. I told him that if he didn’t take my word for it, that was it, I’d work to rule from then on. He backtracked rather hastily.

    This is the same guy that told me “if you’re not happy working with me, it’s up to you to resign, I’m the boss”.

    With the 2008 recession the firm could no longer afford to pay his bloated salary, company car and company motorbike. He sold the firm and negotiated to stay on as Sales Director. Then the new boss fired him once he’d got all the important info from him. Then one day I arrived at work to be told that the night before he’d waited for me to leave, then told everyone else it was his last day and walked out. I was afloat with Schadenfreude for the rest of the week

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