is being salaried a scam?

A reader writes:

I’m at the highest hourly position in my company. Most upward mobility for me at this point is becoming salaried, and as I’ve explored it, I am perplexed.

As an hourly employee, I’m generally not working more than 42 hours on any given week. I get two 15-minute breaks and a half hour lunch. I have the luxury of logging off and not having to think about work for the rest of the day. And of course, overtime!

For most salaried people at my company who I’ve spoken to, it sounds like the norm is minimum 45-hour weeks, with bad weeks being as much as 60 hours. Getting breaks or lunches seems rare, if it happens at all, and work can bleed into other areas of your life. And honestly, knowing my company’s pay structure, switching to salaried would be a pay cut due to the loss of overtime pay. I know there’s theoretically a benefit of flexibility, but I get all the flexibility I need in my current job.

Seeing the comparison, I don’t understand why anyone would go for salaried positions! I would be miserable with that set-up — I need to be able to step away from work throughout the day, and the occasional 9-10 hour day is exhausting to me. And I have friends! And hobbies! I want to have energy for those things.

Is my company an outlier with these salaried working conditions? Is there some obvious benefit I’m missing? Am I unusual for needing breaks and being exhausted when working more than 40 hours a week? What am I missing?

Ah, you have asked the key question of modern work — a question that is sitting in plain view begging people to look at it but still doesn’t get asked enough.

Being salaried is often a scam.

Not always. It depends on how a company implements it. But often.

First, let’s clarify some terms. What you’re really talking about is being exempt. In the U.S., all workers are classified as exempt or non-exempt. Non-exempt workers must be paid overtime (time and a half) for any hours over 40 they work in a single week. Exempt workers are exempt from overtime requirements, but must be paid the same salary every week. Your classification isn’t up to your employer; it’s governed by federal regulations. To be exempt, you must earn a salary of at least $35,568 and perform relatively high-level work as your primary duties. (There’s a more detailed explanation here.) People often use “salaried” to mean exempt, but you can be salaried non-exempt too (meaning you get the same salary week to week but you also get overtime time). So although you said “salaried” in your letter, you’re really talking about being exempt.


The way it’s supposed to work is if you’re salaried/exempt, you’re getting paid to do a job, not for a specific number of hours. So if you work 45 hours one week and 36 hours the next, that’s supposed to be okay.

And some places work like that, and when they do it’s mostly fine. When you have that kind of trade-off, that flexibility is a benefit.

But at a lot of places, that flexibility is much more one-way. You’re expected to work the company’s standard business hours at a minimum, plus any additional time it takes to get your job done. If you have to work 45 hours one week, that’s just what’s expected of salaried workers. But if you work 36 hours the next week, you’re going to be charged four hours of PTO (or you’re going to get weird looks and questions about why you left at 1 pm on Friday).

In those companies, “you’re paid for the job, not the hours” only goes one way, and it’s in the company’s favor, not yours. They don’t see those 45 hours as anything extra, but they sure do see those 36 hours as less than what you owe. At those places, being salaried/exempt just means you work more hours without being compensated for them.

That’s not to say there aren’t still other advantages to being exempt. Often when you’re exempt, you have more flexibility in your day. You often don’t need to track your lunch or other breaks with the same rigidity and/or have more control over when you take those breaks. (Although a lot of salaried people do fill out timesheets in order to bill clients, track resources allocated to particular projects, or track PTO.) Generally, if you take a call from your spouse or check the news now and then, it shouldn’t be a big deal because there’s not as much focus on “you are being paid to work during this specific time, right now.” (It shouldn’t be a huge deal in many non-exempt jobs either, but in reality it can have a different feel.)

But are those advantages enough to make up for potentially working very long weeks and not receiving overtime pay?

I’d argue no.

I don’t want to overstate the case. A lot of people do like being exempt and have companies that handle it fairly — giving back as much flexibility as they expect to receive from employees. But there are a lot of companies that don’t.

And some people feel like there’s an increased status to being exempt, that it’s somehow more professional. Think about that: We’ve convinced people there’s status to not getting paid more when they work more. We’d do well as a society to move away from that.

{ 349 comments… read them below }

  1. Lacey*

    I’ve wondered about this too! Working hourly means I always have great work life balance because most of the time it isn’t worth it to my company to have me work overtime. And my current company gives us great flexibility anyway, so that’s no incentive.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Having always worked salary/been exempt (even back when I was a lowly entry-level person who probably should not have been exempt), I am sure my perspective is a little skewed. But my husband has almost always been hourly/non-exempt, so I do have some perspective in how this works. And for me, the way it works is: I have a LOT more flexibility than my husband does. I mean, a lot. My company isn’t wildly generous about these things, but I never have to take PTO for doctor’s appointments, I never have to take PTO if I need to come in late or leave early once in a while (can’t do it all the time, but I can definitely do it now and then), I never have to worry about occasionally taking a slightly longer lunch break, I can take breaks whenever I darn well please, etc.

      This is all so long as I get my work done, of course.

      I do work more hours than he does, but that’s mostly because I have periods during the work day when I’m just not that productive. It seems to be the way I’m made. So I tend to work a little past closing time (5 p.m.) just to make up for my non-productive periods. I probably average 45 hours/week – but again, that’s including those unproductive periods. I have plenty of coworkers who are on salary but clock out on time just about every day simply because they are better at being productive throughout the day than I am.

      Now that said, it does sound, OP, as though your company is less reasonable than mine. There are companies that are even more reasonable than mine is, though. So it’s just not possible to come out with an all inclusive statement about whether it’s better to be exempt or non-exempt. It depends on the company, the job and the individual. I would deeply, deeply loathe having to clock in, clock out, take breaks of X minutes length and a lunch of Y minutes in length, have to ask permission to schedule a doctor’s appointment during the day and all that jazz. But my husband wouldn’t have it any other way – usually, anyway. He does find doctor’s appointments and things like that very irksome.

      1. La la la*

        This describes my experience as an exempt employee too. I only have to take PTO if I’m truly taking a day off, no need if it’s just for a doctor visit or to come in late or leave early. I also have trouble focusing in the middle of the day, so I use that time to run errands, etc., and then just work for an hour or two in the evening if I have work I need to catch up on. It’s so nice to have the flexibility!

        1. Liz*

          Same. I’ve been at my job for over 20 years, and it was my first position where I was exempt. I love it. For all the reasons discussed above. If I need to leave early or start later, or take an hour or even two in the middle of the day for something, I can. And if necessary, i’ll log back on when I’m done with whatever I had to do, after I get back. But I also don’t abuse it, as my former boss did, taking multi hour lunches several times a week, and pretty much doing ALL her personal stuff during working hours. I only do it when I have to, which isn’t all that often as I really try to schedule my appointments outside of working hours as much as I can.

        2. KRM*

          Exactly. I have to go to the dentist for an evaluation on Friday, and if they don’t have to do anything that day, I don’t have to take any PTO for the 2 hours I’m out. And if they do I would take a sick day anyway.
          OP, another advantage to being salaried is with the benefits. My employer pays a large chunk of my health insurance, I have life, short, and long term disability insurance, and my vacation time is paid. We have a health savings account the company funds for us (tied to the health insurance), and a 401(K). All those things mean I don’t mind working some extra time here and there, although I do have a good employer whose metrics are “is the work getting done in a reasonable time, and does KRM tell me if it’s not going to be on time”, so we have lots of flexibility. So my advice is to find a salaried job at a company that focuses more on their employees, if at all possible.

          1. Kloe*

            I’m non-exempt. If I need to go to the dentist, I tell my boss I’ll be on late in or out early and stay an hour longer on one or two other days. No biggie as long as I’m there during our core times and stay within maximum in one stretch work hours.
            Flexibility is a function of your employer not of exempt or non-exempt.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              Sure, but sometimes it is. I, for example, do not have to “stay an hour longer” to make up for the dentist appointment that I have later today. It’s simply assumed – correctly – that I will make sure this doesn’t impact my job. That could mean working early or late, but it could also mean that I simply don’t work a full 40 hours this particular week. It just depends on how booked the week happens to be. My employer trusts me to do my job, and they know that they get their fair share of my time, and so long as I don’t give anybody reason to think that I am abusing that trust, nobody is going to nitpick about how many hours I work.

          2. Benefits are Exempt only?*

            It seems like you’re saying the hourly employees at your company don’t get benefits? That’s surprising to me. In the four companies I’ve worked for, all employees regardless of exempt/non-exempt status receive the same benefits at the same cost. The one exception was one university that mandated exempt employees put more funds into the retirement account for the employer match than non-exempt.

            1. Brad Fitt*

              I’ve seen that at a few places I’ve worked: the scam is they’ll only schedule exempt workers for full time hours, everyone else is categorized as part time and not eligible for benefits. It leads to low productivity, no loyalty and high turnover (duh!), which the company uses to justify their policies.

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        We always say our hours are 9ish-5ish. (assuming you aren’t on a shifted schedule.)

        It’s only a half day if you get in after 10:30 or leave before 3:30. Need to look for a new apartment? Fine. Doctor’s appointment? Fine. Leave early cuz family is in? Fine.

        I work a pretty consistent 40 hour work. Sometimes it might be 45-50. But pretty consistent 40. I do have co-workers who work a lot more hours. That’s their choice and they have different jobs then I do.

      3. GothicBee*

        I actually worked a job where I started out as salaried, exempt then I was switched to hourly, non-exempt. So it was the same job, same yearly pay, etc. but the only difference was hourly vs. salary (the switch happened due to the change in law a few years ago). In both instances I was only expected to work 40 hours a week, no overtime regardless of whether I was salary or hourly.

        In that job, where hours were the same, I preferred being salaried, exempt. Mainly because, like you point out, there’s a lot more flexibility. I didn’t have to account for doctor’s appointments and things like that. Also, I really preferred the salaried pay schedule (which was 2x per month) vs. hourly (every 2 weeks). Because knowing what day of the month I was going to get paid made it easier to plan and budget for bills.

        That said, I think hourly, non-exempt positions do give you a little more protection from being taken advantage of in general. You have an easy way to push back on unpaid overtime and working off the clock (it’s illegal) whereas trying to enforce boundaries in an exempt position that wants you to work unrealistic hours can be more difficult. Also, certain jobs just shouldn’t ever be exempt because the hourly demand is so high. There should be something to protect people who end up making really low pay when you average it out to hourly because they work 80 hour weeks but are exempt.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          The pay periods aren’t necessarily due to the exempt/non-exempt status. I’ve only ever had non-exempt hourly jobs, but depending on the employer I’ve been paid weekly, biweekly, twice per month, and once per month. My current employer has two pay periods per month, so we always get paid on the 5th and 20th.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            It depends on the state. Some mandate how often non-exempt employees are paid, others don’t.

      4. Not My Usual Name*

        This is also my experience. I mean, I’ve had salaried/exempt jobs where my work-life balance was worse, but the punitive scrutiny around appointments or even going to the restroom is something I’ve only ever encountered in hourly positions. At least for me, having autonomy and knowing that there’s less chance that needing PTO can be held against me is worth the potential work-life balance tradeoff.

      5. Fae Kamen*

        This all makes sense to me! Just wanted to mention one thing: Many people who are hourly/non-exempt also have periods during the work day when they’re less productive (seems totally normal!)—but they simply wouldn’t work overtime to make it up. So your working longer hours may feel more like a personal quirk because not everyone who’s exempt does it, but it’s still a consequence of the exempt/non-exempt structure.

      6. DataGirl*

        The main differences I’ve noticed at my employer between non-exempt/exempt (this was pre-COVID, not sure how they are handling it now)

        *Non-exempt have to clock in/out on premises, so they couldn’t work from home. I’m not sure how that was handled when COVID hit.
        *Non-exempt have very strict hours. As others said this meant they couldn’t do things like leave for a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day or leave early for their kid’s recital without a) getting permission and b) taking PTO. Exempt staff manage their own schedules and have way more flexibility.
        *Exempt staff at my workplace generally are paid much better than non-exempt. In theory, non-exempt could make up for that with overtime but there has been a ban on overtime for years now.

        For me, flexibility is really important so that I can deal with life stuff. I see colleagues who are non-exempt and have small children, elderly parents, sick pets- whatever really struggle with their schedule being so rigid and not being able to bank PTO because they are constantly having to take a few hours here and there for appointments.

        1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

          If your company wanted to they could find a clock in system that allows hourly employees to work from home.. My company is mostly work from home and has been for years prior from covid-19 hit. And we are hourly employees

        2. Lee*

          Exactly this. I’ve worked both exempt & non-exempt and I’d choose exempt any day of the week. My non-exempt role was literally the worst job I’ve ever had. They were so strict on time for absolutely no reason, especially for my role which wasn’t even client-facing. I lived nearby so I’d go home for lunch, and one time I had to extend my lunch hour because there was a tornado warning and it was safer to stay home until it passed. I was still asked why I was 15min late returning to the office. Umm, did you not hear the screaming TORNADO SIRENS?! Says more about the company than being non-exempt but still.
          (I’ll also say this relatively small company had 10 people quit within the span of a year – including myself. So that should tell you alot).

      7. Glitsy Gus*

        I’m currently salaried and it does come out in the wash for me. That said, it does very much depend on the job itself and the company culture.

        My job is rather feast on famine, one month we’ll be going all out, every day with at least 1 hour of OT a day. The next month, filling 36 hours is hard. On those slower weeks, longer lunches, popping out to take care of errands, that kind of thing are totally fine, as long as we are available if we’re needed. I can also take a couple hours to go to the doctor and not get docked PTO or flex my schedule a bit as long as I let my team know. If I add up all my hours for the year the company maybe gets a few extra hours out of me overall, but the flexibility and steady paycheck number is well worth that 10-20 hrs/year.

        I’ve been at other companies that were more like what you describe at your office, way more OT weeks than slow weeks, still kept to a very rigid schedule, basically it works out great for the company but not so great for the employee.

        When interviewing for a salaried position I do ask a lot of questions about scheduling, average hours per week, etc. not just to get the answers, but to se how the interviewer reacts to them. If they seem really annoyed, bristle or make a lot of justifications when I ask about the average number of hours worked in the department, it’s not a great sign. If they are really open and candid about numbers and attitudes towards flexibility, even if the overall number is a bit high, that shows a much healthier attitude towards how the concept of salary is supposed to work.

      8. Jack Russell Terrier*

        I worked as a historical expert witness. We got ok PTO – 21 days combined vacation and sick leave BUT we had to use six of those for federal holidays – yup we were expected to accrue Thanksgiving etc.

        We were hired by law firms and billed by the hour. The big issue was that we spent a lot of time traveling to Archives and Libraries today research – they were often open late. It made sense to work late – get home sooner and it cost the client less. We wracked up incredible amount of ‘uncompensated overtime’ that was billed to the client. There was a half year period I was in Atlanta more then at home.

        The rub – it became a federal case if we wanted to take any time off in lieu because – you know, we’re billable and if we take time off we can’t bill. I was actually told to take PTO for a doctor’s appointment.

        I became a contractor.

        It really, really depends on the company.

      9. Thursdaysgeek*

        ” I would deeply, deeply loathe having to clock in, clock out, take breaks of X minutes length and a lunch of Y minutes in length, have to ask permission to schedule a doctor’s appointment during the day and all that jazz”

        I once had a job that was salaried, so no overtime. But then they put in a timeclock system, so we still had to clock in and out. And like the OP, working extra was fine, but if you need to take off for an appointment, that should come out of your PTO. And no scheduled or required breaks, other than the state mandated half hour for lunch.

        When we got a new boss that essentially said 45 hours a week was the minimum for barely meeting expectations, and talked about setting priorities, I took him at his word, and decided my priority was a different job.

      10. Dust Bunny*

        I’m non-exempt but people in the next grade up from mine are exempt and this is the way my employer works: You can run over a little here and there but they don’t expect you to, and if you were habitually working more than an extra hour or two a week they’d probably ask what was up. Not in a bad way, just in a . . . does this need to be managed differently? way. The flexibility is meant to account for the very occasional need for people at a certain level to work weekend or evening events, not to make people work unpaid overtime.

        Non-exempt employees are not allowed to work overtime unless it’s pre-approved. I’ve worked one weekend and I think two evening events in 16 years and got time off on alternative days to make up for them.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          We’re also coverage-based so there is a limit to how much flexibility anyone can have, exempt or not, anyway. There are other departments who have more flexibility than mine does but they can do more than we can remotely and are also expected to do more odd-hours events than we are.

      11. TardyTardis*

        For some years, in OldJob, it turned out that exempt people got sick time and non-exempt people didn’t, not really (three days a year, seriously). Of course, this only worked for the exempt people if they managed to avoid getting sick at the end of the month or at year-end. Later, we changed to a bank of time (and people usually started at two weeks a year, even the first one for entry-level people), and that was more fair.

        (but you still weren’t allowed to be sick at month-end or year-end).

    2. Green Tea for Me*

      I’m actually in pretty much the same boat. I’m paid hourly and I honestly don’t think there’s a single thing my company could offer me that would make me agree to be exempt.

      My department isn’t coverage based so I’ve never had any problems with flexibility. Need to take half a day for a doctors appointment? I can come in early/stay late to make up those hours over the other four days. Meanwhile in the three years I have worked for my company I’ve worked exactly one Saturday, but exempt employees seem to be in at least one Saturday a month.

    3. MassMatt*

      Well, let’s take a look at the big picture–most of the people running companies and managing people, etc are exempt. They are the ones making the most money. Most of the hourly (non-exempt) workers are NOT making the most money. Many of them are in fact pretty poorly paid. Many of them need to work overtime (IF they can get it!) to make a decent living.

      There are certainly exceptions to the rule, as with the OP–if she’s a skilled hourly employee with tenure, etc maybe she does make more than people immediately above her in exempt positions. But in the vast majority of cases, people running the place are not working more hours for less money than the hourly employees.

      I confess I had the very same concern when I went from a producer role to managing a team. I’m glad I did, the experience was valuable and my income went up significantly.

      If a company has exempt employees working 50-60 hours a week with no OT and the hourly employees are making more, it’s very poorly run. Overall, people should want promotions, not shun them because their existing jobs pay more.

      I have encountered this in retail, but in that case, OT is strictly limited, so compensation is capped across the board.

    4. Metadata minion*

      Me too! I love being able to sign off at the end of the day and know that I am technically *not allowed* to worry about work.

    5. Not a Blossom*

      I am exempt at a company that already has great flexibility, and I have to say, I feel like I lost out. My salary wasn’t increased that much and I lost tons of overtime and double pay on snow days. They do put slightly more into my retirement, which is nice, but in the end, I feel like I got the bad end of it.

    6. Jane*

      What about health insurance, 401k and paid time off? Do hourly workers get those benefits? They are worth a lot. If the answer is no, when added to salary, salaried workers are indeed better compensated.

  2. Emma Woodhouse*

    When I started in my field I was in an entry level role that involved administrative work so I received overtime. When I got promoted I received a substantial raise but ended up making less money because of overtime (about $10k less). The hours were not and never will be predictable but not having to do administrative work was worth the pay cut. The business I’m in is “up or out” so I couldn’t have stayed in the role long term and certainly wouldn’t have wanted to.

    I think it depends on your company. I regularly work 60+ hours a week but also get a mid-5-figure bonus to make up for it. I wasn’t eligible for a bonus when I got overtime. I’m also single and in my mid-20s so climbing the ladder as quickly as I can is more important than quality of life at the moment. If I were 40 with children I’d probably have a different view.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Thant sounds sounds much like my dad’s situation when I was a kid. He was a land surveyor, and during the summer (when he was working in the field – think identifying where on a construction site the corners of the building should be) he would regularly work 10 hour days or more. (Winters, with shorter days, meant there was less daylight and so less time in the field.) His job was hourly/non-exempt, so he got overtime for those long days.

      He was offered a promotion. The promotion would’ve made him salaried/non-exempt, and the salary was more than he could make in 40 hours at his base pay rate. The salary was less than he was actually making when you considered the regular overtime. His expected working hours were not changing. He turned down the offer.

      1. Emma Woodhouse*

        It’s a tough trade off. It’s been 3 years since I took that promotion and my salary has more than doubled but that’s not always the case. Promotions often come with more headaches and the money is not always worth it for some people.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Dad eventually moved on to a management role in a smaller company, and was eventually able to buy in as a co-owner of that company. Up to a certain point, it was definitely a better fit for him than the previous company. (And when it stopped being a good fit, he sold back his share of the company and started working as an independent contractor until he retired.)

      2. TardyTardis*

        My dad was offered the job of yardmaster at a railroad (he was already pretty much running the place, having been the first person there to learn the computer). He would have had a lot more responsibility, longer days, and no overtime. For $30 more a month.

        He noped so hard he hurt himself.

    2. ThatGuy*

      I think the “climbing the ladder” piece is key here. The first step from hourly to salaried can be a pay cut, but once the worker advances one to two steps beyond that she’s making significantly more than she did as an hourly worker. Some people view the initial pay cut as a temporary step in the process of making a lot more.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, that’s key. If that first exempt step isn’t the last step up of your career, it’s almost certainly worth it. I work a lot more than 40 hours a week, but I make at least double the salary of the highest non-exempt person at my company, and I definitely don’t work double their hours. The fact that I can choose to work some of those double pay hours on the bleachers at my kids’ practice is gravy.

        1. Great point*

          Not in the US – I’ve worked two jobs as a non exempt salaried worker, and I can very much say that the flexibility is completely dependent on the company / managers you have. My first didn’t allow that much flexibility, ok my current does. I did a year as an exempt salaried manager… was not worth it at all, would have made more as an individual contributor with the amount of OT needed.

      2. Mad Harry Crewe*

        But why is this the case? That’s how it works right now, in the US, but why is it that you can only make more money as an exempt worker? Why shouldn’t managers be paid a high-level wage for the hours they work, rather than the salary system where they can more easily be exploited?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Because management tends to be more about results than butt-in-seat hours. I work very efficiently and smartly to maintain my work/life balance. Honestly, if I was paid for hours worked, I’d make less than some of my peers who, in my opinion, do things the hard and tedious way, often to avoid learning new software or technical skills. And my office is very into salary equity, so I might get a slightly larger bonus but would be in the same hourly rate range as the ones who take twice as long to do the work.

          There are also FLSA-related issues related to on/off clock time that complicate things that are management duties like off-hours email monitoring.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, often an exempt position is also on some type of bonus plan tied to revenue or quota goals in lieu of overtime pay. Sometimes those are also tied to performance, but not always.

  3. Colette*

    Thank you for this. I work at one of those companies where working at least 40 hours a week is the expectation. I also work at one of those companies where I am required to fill out a timesheet to bill clients. We can include administrative time on our timesheet, but we are required to keep that to a minimum in order to be as billable as possible. Which means that my having a life is definitely not my employer’s focus or concern. However, I need that downtime in order to be at my best for that minimum 40 hours. They just don’t seem to get that.

  4. Smithy*

    I think that the point about status is a huge factor when it comes to why people chase exempt status.

    In many places where I’ve worked there are assumptions that being exempt means you start making more money. Due to lots of other cultural norms in the US around not discussing salary/money being a a private matter – whether or not that’s true is often not exactly known.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked for a company that had different classifications, & exempt staff definitely had better benefits. We had both bargaining unit & non-bargaining unit non-exempt staff. When I started, the bargaining unit benefits were great. By the time I left, they weren’t. They reclassified a bunch of staff about a year before I left. And tried to cut pay as part of the change. I started looking for a new job that day.

      But I did know people who wouldn’t apply for promotions out of the bargaining unit unless the paygrade was high enough to make up for lost overtime pay.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I was going to say – everything Alison says is true … as long as the benefits are the same (paid leave, insurance contributions, and 401K). Sometimes only the salaried FT-ers get the most out of those benefits, in which case the calculation can change.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          And we ended up with less flexible schedules while also having to do mandatory overtime.

          Where I am now comps salaried staff for time worked over 40 hours. And non-management staff is strongly encouraged to not work extra hours unless necessary.

    2. AVP*

      I think – also – there can be a point where you have the chance to make a lot more money by working up the ladder and that, generally speaking, happens in the exempt jobs. Of course, if you’re transitioning from OT to no-OT you do often take a hit, at least temporarily, and you have no guarantee of actually making your way up that ladder! It’s the ~American~Dream~Lottery~

    3. Beth*

      Do people chase exempt status? That’s a strange concept to me. In my experience, people chase higher pay, better benefits, etc. A lot of the time, accepting the promotion that gives you flexible scheduling or the job change that gets you better health insurance means accepting that you’re going to end up classified as exempt, because that’s often how higher level positions end up getting classified. But I don’t know many people who would turn up their nose at those benefits AND getting paid overtime when they’re stuck with a 60+ hour week!

      1. HS Teacher*

        That’s dependent on culture. In my culture, it’s a big deal to have a salaried position. I’m from an area with high poverty and a salary indicates stability to some people, while hourly just means you are subject to layoffs. I’m a contracted employee, which is a whole different ball of wax, but people here definitely chase salaried positions.

        1. Beth*

          Ah, maybe that’s it–in circles I’ve run in, nobody thinks being ‘salaried’ would keep you from being laid off or fired in a moment if your employer decided they wanted to terminate you, so there’s no real vibe of stability attached to the concept.

        2. Amoeba*

          Early on as an hourly employee, my hours were constantly being messed with. At one point, I would be scheduled for 16 hours a week but each day would be asked to stay later so I might end up working anywhere from 20-32 hours a week. I often picked up shifts to try to get to 40, which sometimes meant pulling a Clopen depending on what hours were available. When I went salaried it was amazing to know how much my pay was going to be.

      2. NotJane*

        I don’t think people so much chase “exempt status” specifically. It’s more that they chase jobs/positions/promotions in which they’d be classified as exempt, because, like you said, “that’s often how higher level positions end up getting classified.”

        In other words, if you want to move up the food chain, being exempt typically goes along with that. And I’d guess that’s how being classified as exempt morphed into a status symbol of sorts in the office hierarchy.

    4. MK*

      Also, I think the OP’s first phrase should offer her some insight into why people choose to go exempt: she has reached the highest non-exempt position in her company, so choosing to stay non-exempt means her career will stagnate (at least at that company). Taking an exempt position might translate into a paycut, if you take into account the longer hours, but it is supposed to put you onto a career path where you will make considerably more money in the long run.

      That being said, in my country exempt positions are reserved for higher-level work than non-exempt, and come with different job duties that the promoted employee will have to learn; so they go from being a senior, experienced worker in work A to a newbie in work B.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t think it’s about status. I know many specialty technicians or tradespeople who make an hourly rate that is a MUCH higher yearly salary than mine.

      At some point, you don’t really have the choice anymore of exempt or non-exempt when accepting a job offer. All you can do is try to ascertain the normal work hours and work/life balance.

      I haven’t been offered any hourly rate, non-exempt jobs in years unless they were freelance or contract jobs, but those are a whole different thing.

  5. Maeve*

    At my first job out of college I was exempt and paid $27,000 a year. One week, on Tuesday, I worked a 12 hour day like I did literally every Tuesday. On Wednesday I asked if I could take a two hour lunch because my cat was sick and I wanted to check on her in the middle of the day and I was told I would have to use sick time.

    1. Chilipepper*

      That is how it is for exempt managers at my workplace, they need to use PTO for things like that. We can only use sick leave if we are sick, not if a family member is sick.

      1. Artemesia*

        A place that expects you to work 12 hours one day and not allow a little comp time or grace if you need time off for an errand is abusive. Classic — what works for us is fine, and what doesn’t work for you is fine.

        1. Blue*

          This is my biggest mental hurdle when I think about getting a salaried job. I seem to hear of so many workplaces where they expect you to work 8 hours every day minimum, not average, and I want no part of that. I’m okay with staying late occasionally if I can leave early and not have it be looked at badly. And I think it’s ridiculous that it’s legal to force workers to take PTO if they leave early even when they’ve stayed late recently; it seems hardly any different in that regard from treating them as non-exempt and making them work a set number of hours, except for being worse because you don’t get OT pay.

      1. Maeve*

        I used to have a dilute tortie! (But I did not give her my name, because that would be weird.)

    2. Canadian Valkyrie*

      I used to have a job where I was salaried and this coworker kept telling me I’d never get ahead if I didn’t work overtime. I finally told her that if that was true then I didn’t want to get ahead. Thank god this was not true of the whole company’s culture

    3. A Cat named Brian*

      I worked for a company like that. The first couple of months I averaged 45 to 50 hours. I was salaried, exempt for pay but treated the same as non exempt with required time clock and breaks. I wanted to leave early on a particular day to visit a child and I would only have 39.5 hours for the week. They told me I had to take vacation. After that I didn’t work more than 40 hours a week.

    1. Volunteer Enforcer*

      I’m UK based. I was effectively exempt in an admin position, charity based previously as my department didn’t have an overtime budget (our core costs came from overhead, I.e. what was left after the government contracts were paid in). There was an informal agreement that any overtime worked would be taken back as time off another day. So no overtime pay but an early finish was easy if I had worked late recently.

      1. Anon today*

        NZ, and my team has something similar with taking back the time – it’s often done informally if it’s just a few hours here and there, or can be done formally if it’s a larger stretch of time. No overtime in our roles. I built up a bit over a week of time-off-in-lieu owing during one gnarly stretch, and took it as a few days leave here and there over the next month – our company’s payroll system has a category for this type of leave so that it can be on record.

    2. BubbleTea*

      We don’t have the same laws about exempt/non-exempt status here. Also we have employment contracts (although some people have zero-hours contracts which are less than ideal for most, but not all).

      Personally, I have never worked more than 35 hours a week as my set, full time hours. In some places, full time is 37.5 hours. Sometimes I do work a bit later than my official finish time of 5pm, but that is normally because I started late, or took an extended lunch. It’s rare that I need to work extra hours for workload reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I could work more hours and not run out of work, but I’m not required to.

      Context: I work for a charity and have never worked in the private sector. My current employer places a high priority on being family-friendly in the broadest sense: even if a role is advertised as full time, once you are offered the position they welcome requests for flexible hours or part time hours. I’m one of only two people in my office who works full time standard hours. Another person works full time but starts early and finishes early in order to care for his elderly mother. Several people are parents who work part time. One person works full time hours over four days, to give herself an extra day a week off to spend with her partner.

      At my last job, they were a lot less supportive and flexible, but there was still the expectation that you would not work more than your contracted hours very often. In both jobs, if you needed to work extra you could and indeed were meant to bank time off in lieu, to be taken by arrangement with your manager. I understand that isn’t possible for non-exempt people in the USA and not common for exempt ones.

    3. Adereterial*

      Also UK based – every job I’ve ever had bar my retail jobs when I was younger has been ‘salaried’. Most of those jobs didn’t involve any overtime, for those that did, it was either paid or I accrued the extra time as ‘flexi’ and could use it to work shorter days or take entire days off if I wished. I’m currently in a job that doesn’t pay overtime (except in some specific circumstances that are unlikely to apply to me), but anytime I work under or over 7.4 hours a day is part of a flexi balance I can use, or make back the time, at a later stage. I worked 9 hours yesterday, but only 6 today, for example.

    4. Regular Reader*

      Also UK based. I’ve always worked salaried fix hours contracts. In some roles if I was required to work over my contracted weekly hours I would be paid overtime. Others I was just told to take the time back. Hated that as it never really worked out and I never took all the time back.
      Best system for me was a recorded flexi time system with a set number of hours to be worked over a 4 week period. There were limits how much over or under you could be but it took care of medical appointments, a late commute or that task that you really wanted to finish and worked later. Half hour lunch break was mandatory but you could take longer if you preferred. If you accrued too many hours they could be used up as a flexi day. Most people worked the same hours every day with teams ensuring there was cover during office hours. Pay was standard but the flexibility and the supportive environment made it worth it.

    5. CB*

      I’m in Canada and I am salaried but I also get overtime. I don’t know if that’s the norm in other organizations but we are unionized so that likely has something to do with it. I work for 37.5 hours a week and anything beyond that I get overtime for. Reading this blog has really drove home the fact I could not work in the US; this whole business of being expected to be available to my employer 24/7 you guys have going on, sometimes with pay and often without, sounds like a nightmare. I don’t know anyone that is expected to answer work emails or communicate with work outside work hours on a regular basis, which seems to be the norm there. Being salaried in that situation absolutely is a scam.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        The salaried but overtime eligible thing in Canada is all over the place, depending on which province you’re in. My salaried positions have mostly been overtime exempt based on the Employment Standards Act of whichever province I was living it at the time. It’s pretty common, in both the private and public sectors.

        Then again, some of what you’re describing has to do partly with being unionized rather than Canadian, I suspect. I’m in Canada. I’m not in a bargaining unit and I’m not overtime-eligible, although I work alongside people whose positions are part of a bargaining unit and are salaried overtime.

        My contract says I nominally work 35 hours a week…I certainly work more than that, as does the rest of my team in similar positions. There isn’t some crazy expectation of being available 24/7, but yeah, the nature of the job makes it difficult to make overtime workable, whereas it’s a bit different for admins and the like.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Good companies really don’t expect you to be available to your employer 24/7. Most are a normal 8 hour day/40 hour work week.

        However, one thing I never got was being exempt and wanting or not wanting lunch.
        I hate long lunches (makes me sleepy). I’d rather come in at 8am, power through the day, and leave at 4pm (8 hour day). But many places FORCE exempt workers to take a full 1 hour lunch regardless of whether they take it or not, and FORCE them to stay until 5pm. So if you don’t take lunch, you’ve just given the company 9 hours and 1 free hour of work. Even though technically you’re exempt and supposed to have flexibility because you’re exempt. So glad I’m WFH now. Unless I have a call, I can be done at 4pm most days, or start a bit later if not. Nope, don’t miss the office at all!

        1. Dr Rat*

          That’s a pretty broad brush stroke about “good companies”, there. There are some industries (like aerospace) where for some departments, at least, when you are on a hot project, you do need to be available 24/7 and there is no way you’re going to work an 8 hour day or a 40 hour work week. Sometimes it just goes with the territory.

      3. Elenna*

        I’m in Canada, salaried, and I don’t get overtime (I work in investments/banking). I consistently work 35-40 hours a week, and I almost never have to communicate about work outside work hours. My employer is also pretty flexible about taking a couple hours off for a doctor’s appointment or whatever, or coming in a little later/leaving a little earlier, without needing PTO. Some of that is certainly my particular employer, rather than provincial norms, though.

      4. Vainglorious*

        I’m in Canada, work for the Canadian Federal Government, am unionized, and am excluded from getting overtime compensation. It’s in the union contract that people at my classification & level cannot claim overtime. Nor, of course, can we get bonuses or performance pay.

        I work 50-60 hour weeks as the norm and 80-90 hour weeks when something needs to get done now (last March-April was … rough).

        Being willing and available to work overtime was part of the job requirements.

    6. sacados*

      Japan in many ways has very different employment classifications/laws compared to US/UK/Canada but there is something similar that happens there.
      In *general* employees are mostly part-time; haken (aka temps, usually paid hourly); gyoumu itaku (effectively what the US would call independent contractor); keiyaku shain (translated as “contract employee” but different from an independent contractor, as you are still a fulltime employee of the company with benefits); and seishain (typically translated “full time employee,” though in practical terms it’s very similar to keiyaku shain, but with more/different benefits).

      None of these have much to do with whether or how much overtime you do/don’t get — that’s still something that varies among companies/employment types. (Typically there is a set number of hours, known as “service overtime” that is assumed to be included in your salaried pay, and then you only get overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that — so 40hrs + 10 is the same pay, but if you work 40hrs + 15 then you’d get paid 5 hours of overtime…. that’s a whole other rant though.)

      But the one thing that does come into play is the bonus structure. At least as far as my company is concerned, seishain employees are the only ones to get bonuses. But the way it’s calculated is very different. When you’re a bonus-eligible employee, your salary is divided by 14 instead of by 12 (most Japanese employees are paid monthly), and then twice a year in June and December, you get paid “double.” Theoretically bonuses can increase above that base if the company performs well but …. let’s just say that never happened to me.

      So due to that system, we did get employees who were offered a “promotion” from keiyaku shain to seishain but didn’t want to take it because even with a raise, the bonus structure meant that their net monthly pay would be actually *less* than they were making before (outside of the two bonus months of course).

      1. Mameshiba*

        Yes, great explanation. Usually seishain have better benefits and protections, as it’s harder to terminate them (compared to keiyaku shain, you can just not renew their contract). But conversely you’re subject to polices like personnel transfer, where the company can require you to change departments or locations and it’s very hard to say no.

        I hate the “minashi overtime” system that you described, basically you don’t get paid for your overtime work unless you do a lot, and you’re paid a set amount whether you work that or not. You’d think it would encourage people to work as little as possible if they’re paid for that overtime regardless, but in reality it just saves the company money because they don’t have to pay people for some of their overtime.

        I’m salaried seishain, get those two bonuses, with no “minashi overtime” so I’m actually paid for each hour of overtime. It’s the best of both worlds honestly!

        1. sacados*

          Ooh, that’s nice! My old company (I’m back in the US now actually) had two kinds of overtime, which made it slightly better but we still had a good chunk of minashi.
          Iirc, assuming 20 working days a month, it was a base of 160 hours/month (8×20). We had a “flex time” system with core hours (10am-4pm I think) so outside of that, you could come in late/leave early as needed as long as you still clocked 160 hours over the course of the month. For time off inside the “core” time, you had to use PTO in hourly increments.
          So then, on top of the 160 hours we had I think 40 hours/month of the assumed “service overtime.” So you only got overtime pay for anything over 200 hours worked per month. (And yes, there were several times during the years I worked there where I clocked enough to get that overtime.)
          But then, separate from that, they also had a “late night OT” system so that you also got overtime pay for any hours worked past 10pm on a given day, regardless of whether you had exceeded the 40 hours. No idea whether that’s a common thing in Japan or not.

          Around 2017/2018 or so when they changed the labor laws, we had to start tracking to see who was clocking more than 220 hours per month — you were only allowed to do that I think 5 months out of the year, and if anybody exceeded that, then the company could get heavily fined.
          So there were a few people we had to cut them off, and say “okay you’re already up to 4 strikes, you are NOT ALLOWED to work past 200 hours for the rest of the year” kind of thing.

          1. Mameshiba*

            You remember this stuff very clearly despite having moved on! I’m still here and I forget all the time, haha.

            Yes the late night OT (and holiday work OT) is I believe a legal requirement, or so common that it’s basically a requirement. I really like that as it acknowledges the unique hardships of making people work in the middle of the night or on holidays.

            I believe the 2017/2018 labor law change was in response to that Dentsu worker who committed suicide from overwork. It seems companies are getting stricter about tracking time than they were. One thing I do like about working in Japan is that while overwork and burnout are very common, there is accordingly a greater awareness of it as an HR/societal issue than in the US for instance, where labor laws are looser on this and awareness is just getting started. That’s just my impression though!

    7. AW*

      I’m in the uk

      Some jobs pay a salary for 37.5 hours a week, the couple of professional jobs I’ve had have had limited over time, they usually give time off, to make up for over time worked.

    8. Jude*

      I’m in the UK and I work for a major bank, I’m salaried and my hours are 9 to 5 Monday to Friday (35hrs a week). I also have it in my contract that I get overtime at x1.5 during the week, and x2 at weekends & public holidays.

      Over the last few years I haven’t had to work much OT unfortunately, but from around 2011 to 2013 I was averaging about 20hrs OT a week. I actually had to cut back because I was about to go into a higher tax bracket. Honestly it was amazing, but that was purely because it was entirely voluntary, extremely well paid, and I’m a bit of a workaholic anyway.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        That’s not how tax brackets work! Very common misconception. Look up marginal tax rates

    9. Teapot Translator*

      I’m in Canada and it’s… complicated here. Basically, labour laws are a provincial issue so each province has its own labour laws. There is also a law at the federal level which applies to federal employees and I think to companies working in an industry that is under federal power (banks, for example). In the province where I am, there are different categories of workers, but the general one is between managers and employees. I’ve never been in a manager position, but from my understanding, they don’t get overtime.

    10. HannahS*

      In Canada, if you work a union job, you’re often salaried and get overtime pay. I also know of non-unionized salaried jobs with overtime pay, and non-unionized salary jobs with no overtime pay. Depends on the organization. Some industries (startups, Big Law, some parts of finance) are notorious for paying salaries with ostensible working hours, but really, you’re meant to be available all the time.

      As a medical resident, I’m salaried, but don’t have defined hours or mandatory breaks, and don’t receive overtime pay. We get stipends for overnight/weekend call shifts, plus the following day “off” (it’s not really a day off because if I was at work from midnight to 9:00 a.m. I ALREADY WORKED NINE HOURS THAT DAY). All in all, we make less than minimum wage; we’re exempt from labour laws and not allowed to unionize. Quebec residents managed to move to shift-based system, more like what nurses have, because it was found by the court that making people work 26 hours in a row is a violation of human rights. But it’s similar in the US, I think, except the money might be even worse.

    11. TastefullyFreckled*

      I’m Canadian, and I work in Tech. For me to be paid hourly, I’d need to take a contract (temporary) position. That means I’d lose health benefits (which covers things not provided by the Provincial heath care), retirement contributions, and I’d have no PTO. Some contract positions will pay more than an equivalent salaried position, but not all. And you’re still dealing with similar issues to an “unlimited PTO” situation, and with having a contract renewal dangled over your head.

      I’m salaried, and my company will give extra PTO days if you need to work significant overtime. If it’s just an hour or two here or there, they see it as making up for having to pop out for an errand, doctor’s appointment, etc.

    12. KeinName*

      I‘m in Central Europe. My experience is in NGOs & universities. I would not get paid overtime, but I can take those hours off on any given day/flex my hours (9-2 is core time where we are expected to work) and can bank the hours to take whole weeks off (though I am never that busy to accrue weeks‘ worth of overtime). Employment law and contracts dictate that you get 5 weeks paid vacation time plus unlimited sick leave (though after 2 months I think you have to see a special doctor since then the national health insurance has to start paying your sick pay, not the employer).
      In tech or other private companies, Professional staff are offered ‚all-in‘-contracts (high salaries but unlimited hours with no extra pay). There are also regulations on how many hours a day and week employees are allowed to work. Every area of economy (i.e. trades, care work, construction, IT) has representatives who negotiate minimum wages to be paid to employes in that sector (Ex.: a proprietor of a hair salon must pay their hairdressers who are on staff a miminum of 850€ for 30 hours – that‘s very little money compared to construction etc).
      But there are also working arrangements outside of the ones developed to keep employees and their rights safe, like those of parcel delivery drivers, 24h nurses, staff employed via agencies, etc.
      In theory, the unions and chambers of labour represent the workers‘ interests while the chambers of commerce negotiate the industries‘ needs and then all is working well, but there are many loopholes.
      Our normal salaries also include about 30% taxes and insurance.

    13. Anonosaurus*

      I’m also in the UK. I used to work for the government, where we had a formal flexitime system with core hours and if you worked over contracted hours you could officially take those hours on lieu (there were some rules around how, but they were not strictly enforced and managers could flex). I now work in professional services in the private sector and am salaried. There isn’t official flexitime but unofficially I have considerable flexibility because my business unit has always operated this way even when the overall business was less flexible (it has improved). I’m chuckling at the idea of overtime pay. I think some of our administrative, IT and facilities staff can claim it, but not consultants.

      I am ok with all of this because I have to track my time and so I can see I am working what I regard as fair hours overall, and I prefer the ebb and flow to a steady pace anyway. What I did think was unfair was that in the olden days when I was a (paid) intern, we were expected to work extra hours routinely by staffing out of hours conferences and networking events the firm organized. We were not paid for this and the expectation was you would show willing and if you didn’t the chances are you might not be offered a position after your internship – it was also presented as networking opportunities for you, which is a bit cheeky. I thought that was exploitative and one good thing about pandemic working life is that our current interns don’t have to do this.

      Maybe I’ve been brainwashed but I am comfortable with this, but then the UK has decent worker protection in law. At the moment, although the government is doing it’s best to change that :(

    14. rubble*

      in Australia there’s technically no such thing as being exempt from overtime. being paid a salary is supposed to be negotiated and have a proper contract (I’m sure this doesn’t always happen) and the contract is supposed to account for overtime pay – either through the base salary being enough to cover regular and overtime hours, or by having an agreement to pay the extra when overtime does happen.

      we have by-the-industry minimum wages, but I don’t think they really distinguish between different kinds of office work. thus experienced office workers could be earning more than enough to cover the minimum wage and overtime requirements but could easily still be underpaid for their position/experience. although I think if a salary contract does include the theoretical hourly rate overtime is time-and-a-half of that, not time-and-a-half of the minimum.

      it’s not something I have direct or close indirect experience with, though, so I can only speak to the letter of the law as I can understand it, not to actual industry norms. personally I would never sign a salary contract, being hourly is too important to me. if that means I can’t get certain jobs, so be it!

    15. Annie*

      I’m in Australia, it’s opposite land here! We have strong unions and strict labour laws (Fair Work Act). I feel so lucky to be a salaried full time worker on a permanent contract. I’m paid for 38 hours of work a week, overtime approved in advance only. I have to take a 15 minute break in a 4 hour period, and 30 mins for lunch if working a full day. Under law, a full time salaried worker can’t be asked to work over 38 hours a week unless it is “reasonable” for the role, and must be paid overtime. Contracts can be written or verbal – permanent, fixed term, or casual (at will). They must outline pay, hours and conditions including leave at start of employment. The hourly rates for casuals are higher, but with no minimum leave entitlements. Full time (38hrs) and part time (<38hrs) have set hours, paid the same amount weekly or fortnightly. Casual workers have variable hours, rostered or on-call. There are legislated penalty rates for overtime, and working on weekends. For us, hourly paid casual work represents instability and leaves employees open to exploitation – work the hours asked or don't come back. My state government (Victoria) has brought in a two week "Covid leave" payment for casual workers to encourage sick people to stay at home.

      1. Australian anon*

        As another Australian, I should clarify that there are quite a lot of jobs that do expect more hours a week.

        We don’t have an exempt/non-exempt system though.

        1. Annie*

          Yes, very true, I work in higher ed so there is a lot of unpaid extra hours put in. I still think the baseline for fair treatment of employees is a lot higher than elsewhere. I’m from NZ and there is a lot of unpaid overtime and casual work there, so I still feel like I’m getting a better deal here.

      2. rubble*

        honestly I kind of like being a casual, although I don’t depend on my job to cover all my expenses so I’m in a lucky situation. I have full control of when I don’t work as my availability doesn’t have to be approved, which is a huge plus. I like working at different times and with different people, when I don’t I end up realising half my coworkers have no idea who I am. since I rarely get sick I would rather have the casual loading than the sick leave.

        if I could find a part time job that would give me a 6 hours a week contract I would probably take it in These Trying Times TM, but everyone wants at least 10 and last time I did that every week I had a complete breakdown.

        1. Annie*

          I worked casually as an admin assistant when I was a student and it was really great to be able to scale up my hours when I didn’t have classes and then take time out to finish assignments. But I also had a partner with an income and no health issues at the time. I now have a chronic condition so generous sick leave is very welcome!

    16. Temis*

      I’m in Brazil, and CLT, the somewhat equivalent of exempt has plenty of benefits and safeguards for workers. As a CLT worker, I have to work 40 hours, if I work less, my company can discount that from my payment, but if I work overtime, my employer has to pay for it.
      I have full benefits, 30 days off and as long as I turn in doctor’s notes for appointments, the time I spend in them is not counted as time I didn’t work.
      As a contrast, hourly workers normally don’t have benefits and need to work for more than a company to make up a reasonable amount to survive (this doesn’t apply to highly technical areas like IT).

    17. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I’m in Australia and am salaried. At my company we don’t pay overtime, but do receive time in lieu for any time that we work over our standard hours per week. Big chunks of time (like working a full day weekend event) go into the payroll/leave system and can be requested the same way as other leave, while smaller chunks (like staying a couple of hours late to finish the llama report) is tracked individually and often used for long lunches, mid-day appointments or early finishes by clearing it with your manager.

    18. Admin 4 life*

      When I worked in Australia, as a receptionist, I was a salaried employee. We switched from a 40 hour week to a 37 hour week about two years in. I had to continue to work the full 40 hours so they increased my salary so I was essentially getting time and a half for those additional three hours a week on top of my standard salary. I didn’t request this or think to ask for it but it was a very considerate thing for the company to do. Everyone else was able to work their weeks as needed but given that there is no flexibility for a receptionist, they said they wanted to compensate me for missing out on the perk.

    19. allathian*

      I’m in Finland and I work for the government. The flexibility varies a lot depending on the job and the organization, but I work for an agency where most of the employees are engineers. I’m an individual contributor/subject matter specialist in administration. If you work for the police force, for example, there’s a lot less flexibility. I’m a salaried employee, but managers and those employees who are actually making official decisions are civil servants.

      My official hours are 36 hours 15 minutes per week. We keep track on them, but it’s through a web app and we’re trusted to put the right number of hours, in 15-minute increments. We don’t have core hours, although we’re expected to attend a meeting we’ve accepted the invite to, barring emergencies. I can basically put in my hours at any time between 6 am and 11 pm, and it’s entirely up to me when I work within that time frame. Because my job allows me to so, I could also work on days when my office is officially closed, namely weekends and holidays I don’t celebrate. The only requirement is to have at least one rest period of 36 consecutive hours during the week. Of course it helps that my job requires very little synchronous collaboration, but people who have jobs that require more of that just schedule more meetings with their collaborators.

      We aren’t paid overtime, but tracking working hours ensures that management will intervene if an employee is working either too many or too few hours, although a manager isn’t supposed to intervene until the accumulated working hours fall to -10 or more. So we’re actually allowed to take some unearned time off. In practice, it seems to me that most people have at least a few banked hours all the time. During busy periods, I’ve banked more than 60 hours occasionally. But I loved being able to work 6-hour days in return for several weeks after that. It really helped me destress without having to take sick leave.

      I know that I’m very privileged and I’m very grateful for that privilege. I love the flexibility, and at this point, I’d probably have a hard time adapting to a less flexible system. I’d certainly need a bigger raise than I’m ever likely to get to even consider it.

    20. Zircon*

      New Zealand has greater protection for the employee than the US. No one can be summarily dismissed, except for closely defined gross misconduct – and that has to be defined prior to anything happening. All employees have an employment contract, and most are also unionised. Even if an individual isn’t a member of a union, often the union will be involved in negotiating the employment contract, and the individual contract will follow the collective one.
      Overtime is set out in the employment contract. It might not ever kick in. It might start after 20 hours a week, it might start after 40 hours. The overtime rate is also set out in the employment contract.
      The minimum hourly rate applies to everyone – those working hourly, on salaries and even on piece work or work like fruit picking where workers are paid on the weight of the fruit picked. At the end of the week, over the total hours worked, you must receive at least $18.90 per hour.
      I’ve worked in hourly (paid by the hour) positions and salaried – mostly salaried. Flexibility is dependant on the manager and the organisation. As a manager, I have always told staff they are not to work more than 40 hours / week in order to get the work done. If the work can’t be done within the 40 hours, then we need more staff or less work, and it is my responsibility to put a business case together for that.
      Everyone has a minimum of 4 weeks of paid annual leave after 12 months of employment. If they leave the employer before 12 months is up, the leave has to be paid out to them.
      On top of paid annual leave, we have 11 days of paid public holiday each year. If an employee is required to work on a public holiday, they must have another day off in lieu, AND be paid time and a half.
      Everyone has a minimum of 5 days paid sick leave. Every employer that I have worked for has not required me to take sick leave to visit a Dr, dentist or other health professional, as long as the time away from work is not greater than 2 hours.
      It mostly seems to be young professionals on salaries who end up working stupendous hours – doctors, lawyers etc. I haven’t met anyone who is not a Dr or lawyer who works horrible hours without financial and leave compensation.

    21. londonedit*

      Also UK. We don’t have the exempt/non-exempt categories – jobs in sectors like retail, hospitality, manufacturing, construction, temp jobs and sometimes jobs like reception are usually paid hourly with options for overtime etc, and ‘office jobs’ are usually salaried. Apart from when I was temping at the beginning of my career, I’ve always been salaried.

      My contracted hours are 37.5 a week, and while I might occasionally work a slightly longer day here and there, it’s nothing that would rise to the level of ‘overtime’. Paid overtime doesn’t really exist in my industry and in most companies the understanding is that you work your contracted hours – give or take – and that’s that. For special events – things that would require working on a Saturday or for a whole evening, for example, like a book fair or a launch event – you’re usually given the time off in lieu, so if you volunteer to work at a Saturday event then you can arrange with your boss to take another day off during that week, or whatever. Or if you’ve worked at a launch event on a Thursday evening, your boss will probably tell you to come in late the next day.

  6. Alex*

    I moved from non-exempt to exempt, and I begged for the change.

    My work was hard to do on rigid hours. I have to communicate with people from all over the world, and with people who work non traditional hours. It was actually more stressful to NOT be able to work on my “off” hours and most of the time I did anyway and broke the law.

    Also, my work is often about figuring out solutions to problems. When my brain finds the answer, it wants to test it out! That sometimes happens…in the shower. On the way home. As I’m cooking dinner. Having to fold my work into a 9-5 workday was making it so my work was awkward and inconvenient, rather than having it really be “turned off” during that time.

    I MUCH prefer being exempt. It just works better for the kind of work I do. I like being able to run an errand during the day and not worry about if someone is timing me or wondering if I’ve filled my 8 hours. It’s so much easier and less stressful.

    I will say that my job, under no circumstances, would ever approve any overtime, so that wasn’t a loss for me.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This is an excellent example of why and when exempt status works. You need that flexibility.
      I always say too, that exempt makes sense if you have to travel a lot for work, or have calls or meetings with those in other time zones. It doesn’t matter how your 40 hours gets arranged.

    2. Filosofickle*

      My field is creative so it’s similar for me. It really helps me to put in my time when I’m in the flow or as things shift, whenever that falls. (Spoiler: It’s extraordinarily unlikely to fall in a single 8-hour block starting at 8:30am.) Also, something about clock-watching is really counterproductive to my mindset. Makes me feel scrutinized, mistrusted, and trapped. FWIW I also tend to be fast, so work often takes me less time and exempt means I’m not stuck at a desk doing busy work until the clock strikes 5.

      All that said, most of my exempt positions have given me a fair amount of flexibility / comp time and very little overtime, if any, so it’s worked out for me. I had one that had the one-way flexibility and that was indeed a scam. Flexibility works even better remotely when taking a long break or going to the dentist in the middle of the day isn’t even visible!

      1. TyB*

        I’m in a Scientific Research role and the flexibility is essential for me for a lot of the same reasons. My brain doesn’t just stop thinking about work problems because I’m at home. If I had to log the times I was “working” by thinking through a problem while mowing the lawn or doing some other chore it would be maddening. But I also work at companies that give the flexibility. It’s a nice afternoon and I want to go for a run? Have at it! My experiment is going long, looks like I’ll be staying late today. That’s what’s missing in OPs situation.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Right, I don’t even know how to count time, really! I do a lot of strategy / analysis / writing and I only “work”, meaning heads down in a computer 20-30 hours a week. But those ideas are always running, like a background process. My mind is turning things over and making connections while I dry my hair and take a walk. I can turn it off when needed, but most of the time it’s not stressful and I wouldn’t want to.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      I’m exempt, and the ability to not track my hours that closely has been super helpful during COVID. I find myself answering emails and chats from my phone at the playground on my kids’ remote school lunch break and I don’t need to figure out whether that counts as “on the clock” or not. I have performance goals for the year and projects I’m managing and my manager cares about whether those things are moving along as expected, not about whether I respond to an email at a particular time of day.

      The overall workload is reasonable, my boss is great, and there aren’t many crunch times when overtime is really necessary, so it works well for me. Even pre-pandemic when I was working from the office, I never timed my lunch break or thought about whether it was a specified break time before checking social media, or wondered if I was doing something wrong by chatting with coworkers about non-work-related stuff “on the clock” occasionally. I get to manage that on my own – if I’m meeting performance goals, exactly how I spend each minute doesn’t get monitored at all. The thought of going back to hourly feels like micromanaging for someone in my role – why should my boss care if I browse Amazon at 3:27 p.m. or answer an email at 5:46 from the train after I’ve left for the day?

  7. Lola Banks*

    I once had a role where I was salaried and ended up taking on a task that triggered non-exempt status. The combination of salary + overtime was great, but what I really appreciated was the wlb and being able to leave for the day at a reasonable hour without worrying about optics.

  8. Jellyfish*

    My partner was promoted to a salaried / exempt position and his workweek suddenly doubled. He was making significantly less per hour despite the raise, plus they expected him to be available anytime day or night. After several months of this, he requested a demotion. The company was shocked, but they agreed to let him go back to his previous position. They were even more shocked when his boss also requested a return to hourly pay about two weeks later!

    I’m salaried now and I love the flexibility, so it is possible, but I think the downsides are more common and more troublesome.

    1. Dave*

      This is my partner and I. I am exempt and love the flexibility and my company is generally reasonable on the overtime. It is a position that has peaks and valleys like yesterday’s letter writer and that generally works really well for me.
      My partner is hoping they don’t get another promotion because it would be make them exempt. Their company has a set expectation of exempt employees working 45 hours a week and it does come with a better vacation package. But the amount of money they would lose to overtime would be a major financial blow.
      It definitely works for one of us and not the other.

    2. Jellyfish*

      One more thought: I’m represented by a strong union, and he was not. It makes a difference!

  9. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    I love this question and its answer! Thanks to the LW for being bold enough to straight-up ask it, and to Alison for answering it clearly without sugar-coating it!

  10. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    Back before the exempt/nonexempt mandate, companies like the one I worked for relied on the mythical “manager trainee” scam. They’d demand a lot of overtime but resented paying it. So, those of us who had racked up the hours and pay would get promoted to manager trainee at the lowest possible salary, but be required to work at least 60 hours a week. I think I spent at least three years in the fantasy realm of Manager Trainee-dom. Let’s not go into how many trainees actually became managers. :(

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      My mom worked at a retail chain that is notorious for making food deserts worse and has been banned from some jurisdictions – and one reason is when they come in, they staff below needed levels. They looooove them some managers though! My mom has a full time job and they were still asking her to be a manager and essentially available far more than 40 hours. It would have paid more than her full time job but the stress was not worth it.

  11. Rayray*

    I worked at a law firm a few years ago. I was being paid $15/hour. Another person at my level was making the same. She worked insane hours, I’m talking easily 12+ hour days every day. She eventually got promoted to a manager position and was put on salary. I think she was around $60k. She was working more hours than ever. I don’t know for absolute certainty, but I think she was working 7 days a week most weeks and super long hours, like 7:30 AM – 11:00 PM or later. I don’t know how she made time for anything else in life. She didn’t even seem to eat during the day. She definitely got the short end of the stick because even though it was a significant raise in her overall pay for the year, she was probably barely at $15/hour for doing managerial work.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Wow. Just wow. I remember the days I worked crazy-ass hours like the co-worker you’re talking about. The only saving grace I had there was that my job was about a five-minute walk from where I was living. Which also turned out to be a curse: if something went wrong over there at 2 am, guess who was getting the phone call to fix it? Working hours like that meant you were basically you had no life outside of work. Thankfully I’m not having to deal with that anymore, but I can assure you I had no life outside of work when I did.

  12. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think LW probably knows this but for those who have the same question and might not: there are lots of employers and/or roles out there where being full time exempt means only working 40hrs a week and being able to leave work at work. Being exempt doesn’t have to be awful if you’re working somewhere that isn’t taking advantage of your lack of overtime.

    1. Veronica*

      Agreed. I make of point of telling junior employees that seem to be working extra hours that they don’t have too. We will find someone else to help with the work. I also make a point of scheduling meetings for myself on really nice days. Then I have time in my day to go out and take a walk. I prefer exempt, but only because I have actual flexibility and control. This isn’t always the case.

    2. Jellyfish*

      Yes, my job expects that I work roughly 40 hours a week, but no one tracks my time. As long as I show up for the specifically scheduled elements, am reasonably responsive during core hours, and fulfill my responsibilities, they assume I’m putting in the hours I need to. A few times a month, I have night or weekend obligations, but my org genuinely expects that I’ll use flex time when that happens. (ie. run an event on Wednesday evening, and then leave two hours early on Friday)
      That’s how it should work in my opinion, but it requires a company or manager to actually trust their employees, and too many seem to prefer micromanaging or treating everyone like robots.

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        This is exactly my situation. We are told that we are expected to “average” 40 hours per week. And they really mean it and understand that the first couple weeks of the semester when we have all new student workers, we might put in more time, but at other times we might have days where you come in late, take a long lunch and leave early. The hourly people are not allowed overtime, and so if the person scheduled for 8 hours on Saturday gets sick only the exempt people are available to cover, but we most likely will come in late or not at all a day or two next week. For us exempt status is a win. You need to finish something up you have the freedom to do so, also the freedom to have some time off to run errands. We’re expected to use leave for entire days off, unless we have comp time, but if you work at all, you’re not expected or allowed to report leave.

    3. Dave*

      Yes some positions on call /after hours makes perfect sense. Other positions it is ridiculous.

    4. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Very true. My particular company is good about work-life balance, and not being expected to work significantly more than 40 hours a week, or to have to work at odd hours for the majority of the roles. And where that is a possibility, at least for my role it came up during the interview process. (Overtime is not expected, but the occasional shifted schedule was/is.) They’ve also proven to be good about flex time so you can go to things like doctor’s appointments without using sick time, and “sneaking out” early on Friday afternoon if you’ve worked long days early in the week. (“Sneaking out” is usually preceded by a general announcement that one is sneaking, thus negating any sneakiness.)

      And I know of many similar roles (software developer) at other companies that would expect much longer hours for a much less flexible schedule. This is one of many reasons I don’t work for those companies.

    5. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, this is more or less what I came here to say. I’ve been hourly/non-exempt, a contractor and salaried/exempt – some of them involved timesheets and tracking hours, but the only place I had no flexibility was my brief stint in retail as an adult, and I’ve never worked anywhere that expected me to regularly put in overtime – in fact, a few years ago I was in an exempt customer service related role and had been doing some extra work in the evening, at home, and when my manager found out she told me to cut it out and leave early on Fridays for a few weeks to make up for it. It depends a lot on company culture, ultimately.

    6. Nicki Name*

      Amen to this. Also there are places where significant time above 40 hours is balanced by comp time.

      1. CR*

        Yes, very common in the NGO field where I work. Sometimes we have to work events outside of the normal 9-5 but we always get that back in time off.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Of course, that requires your work load to be such for you to take it! I’m never going to be able to take comp time for my ten or twelve hour days just because the work load is so high

    7. Cat Tree*

      Yes, this is more of a company culture issue then just an exempt issue. Because of my field, I’ve always been exempt except during internships. At least at low to mid levels, it is about 40 hours most weeks. Even now at a senior individual contributor role, I have good work-life balance. There are occasional weeks where I work significantly more than 40 hours (regulatory inspections, special conferences, critical parts of a project), but for the most part I know about those in advance. Over the course of a year I probably average more than 40 hours per week, but the extra is concentrated into maybe 4 or 5 weeks throughout the year.

      I like the flexibility I have. Pre-covid, sometimes my department would go out to a long lunch on slow days. I would sometimes leave half an hour early if I had plans in the evening, without coming in earlier. If I was late due to a traffic accident, I didn’t have to stay later to make up time or lose out on pay. I don’t track my time at all, and it would feel like a bug hassle to start doing that. I also get paid well overall and it would be hard to find an hourly job that pays similar.

      But even though my current company is good about these things, I admit that it is a big factor that makes hesitant to move into management. All the managers I know routinely work long hours. That wouldn’t be sustainable for me. I don’t know if it’s a requirement or the job or if these particular people are workaholics.

    8. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Louder for everyone in the back. The issue here isn’t being exempt, it’s really about a lack of healthy company culture, adequate resourcing, and good project management processes.

    9. CR*

      Absolutely. I work a normal week and very rarely need to work outside of normal hours. I love the flexibility that comes with being exempt and I would never want to go back to the days of timing my breaks or clocking in and clocking out.

    10. Liz*

      This is my job. except my hours are 37.5 a week not 40. I also start earlier now that I’m WFH so I end earlier, but if something needs to be done, I’ll finish it. But that only happens maybe once or twice a month, if that. And once I log off, that’t it, i’m done until the following day.

      1. But There is a Me in Team*

        So for the folks at 37.5 hours, are you only taking a 30 minute lunch? I’d find that hard because you can’t even go grab something and get back in that time, even if you eat at your desk.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I’ve been all over the place with this. As a salaried employee I have worked 35 hours a week. 9-5 with an hour paid lunch, 37.5 8:30-5 with an hour lunch, 37.5 7:30-4 with a 30 minute lunch, and 40, 8-5 with an hour unpaid lunch.

          I was surprised that even with the 30 minute lunch I had plenty of time, especially if I brought my lunch, but I much prefer the hour.

        2. Rec*

          I’ve only ever worked in places where you get 30min for lunch. In some places you sign in and out from lunch and then anything above 30min just get subtracted from your hours. In some places they trust you only use 30min and people usually have 45min lunch and nobody minds. If you bring your own lunch then 30min is plenty and if you eat out then it is very much not enough. So it really depends on the workplace.

        3. Nicki Name*

          I don’t think I’ve ever had a salaried job that specified lunch limits. I’ve mostly eaten at my desk, but at a couple places it was normal to make some kind of weekly trip to get something with some co-workers and chat while eating it, and that could take over an hour. It was fine as long as you weren’t taking an hour-plus off for lunch *every* day.

        4. Cascadia*

          Yup, I work in a school – we’re all 37.5 hours, and we get 30 minutes for lunch. But we also get free lunch in the cafeteria, so it’s really not hard to have lunch in 30 minutes. I can imagine if you had to leave your building, walk a few blocks to a food place, wait in line, order food, wait for food, eat food, and walk back that that could take longer than 30 minutes.

    11. Helvetica*

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of Alison’s answer in this instance because it veers too much towards the idea that being exempt is mostly a “scam”. The arguments about working hours and time are more about company culture and that can vary quite a lot. For me, the flexibility I get in my working hours is a huge bonus as a salaried and exempt person – though in a different country -, and I would hate to have to track my time or it being tracked. Sure, it means I will occasionally bend in a different direction too and work more than 40 hours a week but it also means that I am responsible for my time and I can flex it in a way beneficial to me as well.

    12. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      This. I’m exempt and the closest I generally come to working more than 40 hours a week is that I log on whenever I get up from my 6:30am alarm, which is usually about ten minutes before my official 7pm start time. I tend to eat at my desk instead of taking a distinct lunch, but I also skim AAM and such a couple times a day, so I feel like that comes out in the wash. Every once in a blue moon, someone up the org chart sends me a meeting request for a meeting that goes til 4 or 4:30 (I generally log off at 3:30), but that’s happened I think twice in the last year, and if I pushed back on it they’d try to squeeze it in earlier – I just don’t, because their schedules are far more jam packed than mine, so I make it work.

    13. MissDisplaced*

      This is true! Not all places try to abuse the exempt status.
      Sometimes putting in exempt overtime may payoff in bonuses or commissions too, depending on your role. There is also travel and other factors, where you need some flexibility to do your job. Many places will allow you to “bank” any overtime for later use when slow. It is something you have to try to learn to ask about in interviews, and I encourage people to begin asking how companies handle it. But it’s also true that many companies will lie or misrepresent the actual overtime required. Sometimes they really don’t know, but often they evade or skirt the issue.

  13. Cobol*

    I agree, and there’s often more that goes into each decision, but the big thing is salaried/exempt positions have much higher upside. It’s not unusual to see a salary over $100k, but uncommon (not unheard of) to get that when you are hourly.

    The bigger thing I see with people with Letter Writers’ take is the transactional nature of how they treat work. Don’t get me wrong, I wish that’s how working was now, applaud those who fight for it to stay this way (either legislatively or through their practices), and know that other countries have it, but my experience in the realities of work now is that in the long-run switching to exempt, including the 45-50 hour weeks, pays off.

    1. OyHiOh*

      How does it pay off? In what ways and at what cost?

      I would argue that work is, by definition, transactional. I give my employer X hours of time, talent, and creative output, Employer gives me X dollars in exchange for benefiting from my time, talent, and creative output.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I can answer that being exempt for me is more an emotional freeness of finally being treated as an adult and not having to track my time AT ALL; not having to account for my every minute or make sure that I don’t clock in/out outside of that magic window where it rolls to the previous/next hour; and knowing that my paycheck is going to be a consistent amount and I don’t need to double check the math to make sure my company isn’t stiffing me here or there (it’s like trusting the change you receive back from a retail transaction — do you really count it all out and make sure they didn’t leave off a dime?) The only time I have to account for is full days — did I work that day? PAID! don’t have to use any PTO.

      2. Cobol*

        It pays off because you’re making $125k for 45-50 hours a week, compared to $60k for 40. Not at first, but the exempt jobs build on each other.

        Also, if you are looking for a job that fills you with joy/purpose, they tend to be either salaried or working for yourself (which has the worst hourly pay).

        And look me current job is the most miserable I’ve had and I’m salaried (there’s more to it than that, but for this conversation is enough). It’s fine to want work to be transactional, but not the only way to view.

    2. Beany*

      If the jump from non-exempt to exempt was accompanied by a promotion to a substantially better-paid position, that seems reasonable. From other comments in this thread, it sounds like some of these non-exempt to exempt transitions are a marginal promotion if anything, with people’s actual take-home pay dropping.

      1. Cobol*

        Sure some are like that. Some hourly jobs pull people’s hours, or make them do a close/open. It’s all over the place.

        My larger point was exempt jobs but a not insignificant margin tend to have much more upward mobility.
        My first salaried job paid me $33,000. I got promoted to $45k at that job, still slightly less than my last hourly job once my 10 hours per week of overtime was included. But…… it led to subsequent jobs that paid more. It took 4 years, but it was almost inevitable that it would pay off. And I’m not a high performer. The payoff for others is even higher.

      2. Bex*

        I look at it as jumping sideways onto a different ladder. You might lose a little ground when you make the initial switch but then you can keep increasing you salary far past the point where the hourly wage ladder ends.

  14. Aphrodite*

    My boss at the college is middle management and salaried. He makes a little more than double what I do but he works far, far more. I can’t be sure but I suspect he routinely puts in 60-hour weeks, probably at times up to 80 hours a week. So basically he is paid about what I am for work that is a lot more stressful, difficult and unpleasant. I am not looked at as management material there and that is just fine with me.

    Unfortunately, the pandemic which has caused us all to work from home has meant working unpaid overtime, even on weekends and late nights. Not all the time but often enough that I hate it. I was dreading going back to the office once we can but now I am looking forward to it. (I’d still love one day a week from home, though.) I will show up at 7:30 and leave at 4:00. No more unpaid unofficial overtime for me because the guilt to finish “just this” will be gone..

  15. No clever username*

    “We’ve convinced people there’s status to not getting paid more when they work more.”


    I’ve literally never thought about this aspect of it before but this is spot on.

    1. BubbleTea*

      It’s the same as being snooty about people who buy non-big brand food, or shop at discount supermarkets, or wear non-fashion-label clothes. Being able to afford to not earn more, or to spend extra on something you could get more cheaply, is the modern equivalent of wearing expensively-dyed cloth to show off your wealth.

    2. WandaVision*

      It is so, so true. I read that sentence and it was like a lightning bolt to my head.

      I worked until midnight last night after starting at 9 a.m. Sure, I’m a remote employee so my company considers that inherently flexible hours, but I still was online that long working, with a few bathroom breaks during the day.

      Up until last year I was a consultant, where I was literally paid for every hour I worked, and in addition to this weird salary scam, I also didn’t have to ever, EVER deal with the level of company toxic politics that I have as a salaried employee. I’m on the “not worth it” side of the argument.

  16. E.N.*

    It was a nasty reality when I recently was moved from hourly to salaried with a massive pay bump… that ended up being about $500 less per month than I was making with overtime. That said, I absolutely take an hour for lunch and my direct supervisor is super chill generally. My current status in the company is a little unbelievable compared to the time I’ve been in this job and my experience prior to this role, so I don’t have a lot to complain about.

    I absolutely have done the math and whereas pre-salaried me would have worked super late multiple times per week, post-salaried me knows that if I’m working more than an extra hour per day, I’m making less than I would have been before. So I try to stick to that extra hour or less when I can. I feel like I’m being overly calculating, but this is the only life I get and I’m not going to run myself into the ground and “lose” money doing so.

  17. Amira*

    I’ve also found, being hourly doesn’t always mean you don’t have flexibility! If the job isn’t client facing/doesn’t have core hours, a good Manager (and company) will let you flex your hours a bit when you need to!
    I’m actually debating whether I even want to climb the ladder at my current company now, being hourly has been very nice in the roles I’ve held here. If I need to take a longer lunch, or a shorter, or start early or late, I just clear it with my manager and my team first.
    We even sometimes get to leave early if we’re creeping up on overtime!

  18. Courageous cat*

    I like being exempt solely because of sick time/family emergencies/etc: when I was hourly, I was constantly stressed. If my cat had to go to the vet (which is expensive), I lost out on money that I could have used to pay for it. If my grandmother died, totally cool to take time off for the funeral, but you won’t get paid for it.

    For me, I am more than happy to give additional time and lose certain benefits if it means that I am covered no matter what pops up in my life.

    1. Rayray*

      It’s funny because I have experienced the opposite. I was on salary at my last job it I was absolutely expected to be butt-in-seat 9:00-5:00. If I had appointments it was a huge hassle and I had to barter with my boss about making up the time.

      I’m in an hourly position now but it’s pretty flexible so long as I get my 40 hours/week. I do need to at least mention to my supervisor if I’m leaving much earlier/coming in much later for whatever reason but it’s never been a problem. I get overtime pay if I work overtime which is wonderful.

    2. kittymommy*

      Same. Being in government there is a lot more flexibility as exempt than non-exempt. Before we have to log in at a certain time. Sure there was a few minutes grace period but if my lunch went a little over or I was stuck in traffic there wasn’t an easy way to adjust it without a million people getting involved. Not having to keep up with every little moment in the day is so worth it.

    3. mf*

      Me too. When I was non-exempt, I always had to take time off unpaid or use PTO to go to the doctor, get my car repaired, deal with emergencies, etc.

      Now I can take an hour or two out of my work to go to the dentist, and it’s no big deal. I get to save all my PTO for actual vacations or for when I’m truly too sick to work. It essentially means I get a *lot* more paid time off throughout the year.

  19. Ann*

    I have a question then: if you are currently categorized as exempt, but you definitely do not meet those criteria, what do you do? I have asked for clarification about why my role is exempt (coordinator/support) and my company maintains I am salaried, thus exempt. We have 3500+ employees throughout North America, but I am U.S. based (along with the company).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say it this way: “I know we’ve talked about this in the past but I looked more into and here are the federal requirements for exemption. I don’t meet X or Y, so we could get into a lot of trouble if we treat me as exempt. According to this material from the Dept. of Labor, we’d need to pay me overtime to comply with the law or change Z about my role.”

      Accompany that with these:

  20. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I’m salary exempt and my husband is hourly non exempt at the same institution. Salaried workers get double the PTO as hourly, supposedly to make up for the longer work weeks? It usually doesn’t work like that though.

    In my state (WA) there’s a real focus on worker protections and a new graduated wage law just went into effect that raises the salary threshold to be considered exempt. By 2028 workers will have to be paid $78,624 in order to be exempt from overtime pay. My org just went through a big process to shift positions that will ultimately end up below that threshold from salary exempt to hourly nonexempt, and it was amazing how pissed off the effected workers were. They definitely felt a loss of prestige even though they’re getting a much better work-life balance.

    1. Alexis Rose*

      Wow. I live in WA and I was not aware of this. Will definitely be looking into it!

    2. Amaranth*

      It seems like in the US exempt and salaried are conflated because that’s often how jobs are set up. I get the impression that many people feel that salaried jobs are more secure as if non-exempt means that you might not be able to rely on being scheduled for 40 hours each week. I know that was an issue when I was a teenager working retail, but do salaried non-exempt workers have variable weekly hours?

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I think people think they’re the same thing because they usually go hand in hand. It’s unusual to see a job that is salaried but not exempt and even more unusual (possibly illegal?) to be hourly and exempt. Many “9-5” jobs, like in an office, are hourly and nonexempt but with no variability in work days or times.

      2. QED*

        I was salaried non-exempt for a couple of years in a program assistant role, and generally, no. From my experience, salaried, non-exempt is fairly common in offices and stuff where the job is to come in 9-5 M-F every week. There was no point in making me hourly back then–I came in for the same hours every week and always got paid the same every week. But if you’re in a job with a lot of overtime or shifting schedules, hourly definitely makes more sense.

  21. IEanon*

    My job is non-exempt. When I first took it, I really resented that I was hourly and had to fill out timesheets. I felt like I wasn’t being treated as a professional. (Naive, I know!)

    Then I realized that I was earning decent overtime pay, and that I could leave on a Friday when quitting time rolled around, while my exempt colleagues often worked over the weekend. Exempt positions here come with an additional week’s-worth of vacation days, but I value the extra pay and clear cutoff time so much more. My supervisor kept trying to change me over to exempt to get me the extra vacation and I kept asking them to hold off. Since the pandemic, no one has brought it up, so hopefully that conversation is done!

  22. CatCat*

    When I was an exempt worker, expectations on hours were so much more clear cut.

    As non-exempt, it’s been kind of all over the place at different workplaces. One place that had been fairly flexible got a new manager that, at her first staff meeting with the team, dropped the whole, “You’re expected to work [40] standard business hours at a minimum, plus any additional time it takes to get your job done” every week with no flexibility. (That went over like a lead balloon and she was.generally terrible and managed to turn over most of a high functioning team in under two years).

    My current place had a bunch of drama with start times for exempt staff a few years ago. There was definitely butt-in-seat-ism at our HQ though not really at the satellite office where I worked.

    WFH over the last year has made things soooo much more flexible. Probably for everyone, exempt or not.

    I’ve also gotten better at quitting at the usual quitting time (assuming there isn’t a big deadline necessitating something different) and not checking work email in off hours. My boss has my phone number if something urgent comes up, which has been once in the past few years.

    1. Chilipepper*

      WFH over the last year has made things soooo much more flexible. Probably for everyone, exempt or not.

      Not for our employer – no flexibility at all. I am still late if I punch in 1 minute late and I will be at HR explaining my lateness if I do that 4 times in a year.
      They also let the best employee go over childcare issues. This employee made every other employee better. They were amazing. Spouse had a medical, front line job and could not do childcare. My employer was unwilling to work with the great employee at all. When the federal emergency money ran out, so did the job.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      I think part of the issue in many jobs is the whole question of the “time it takes to get your job done“. With a lot of modern, white collar, knowledge based work, it is often not at all clear what “done” even means. You can always fine-tune that campaign just a bit more. You can always get back to those half a dozen emails you’ve been ignoring. And everyone has those projects that have been sitting around for weeks, months, or years, just waiting for when there is “time” to get to them. So for many of us, it’s often really hard to figure out where “done” is.

      I once spoke with a labor lawyer who told me that part of the problem is that US labor regulations were written for a completely different work culture in another time, and they just haven’t caught up with the modern age. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it would explain why the categories never quite fit right IME.

    3. GS*

      My very large employer – 40k people – has decided that “for our mental health” we (salaried folks) need to maintain the same start, end, and break times as if we were in the office. There is zero business reason I couldn’t start half an hour earlier and take longer breaks during the day or whatever flex we wanted.

      You can bet I’m not working over my allotted time for them!

  23. Alexis Rose*

    I really love this question! Thank you OP for asking it.

    One important point that Alison made–being ‘exempt’ vs. ‘non-exempt’ isn’t a matter of preference, it’s determined by the pay and the nature of the job. My management role means that I not only assign tasks, I evaluate and mentor my employees as well as design and lead professional development for them. Mentoring is my favorite part of my job and I don’t think I’d trade it in for non-exempt status even though it occasionally means I work longer. However, my company is also pretty reasonable about allowing us to flex our time.

    1. BRR*

      I believe a company could choose to classify you non-exempt even if you meet all of the criteria to be exempt.

      1. Spearmint*

        This is true. I have a relative who works for an employee-owned engineering company that chooses to make all employees non-exempt. They work in a field that often requires driving for 2+ hours across their state to work sites and then working a full 8-hour day. Because they’re non-exempt, they get frequent overtime pay (including for driving to and from work sites) and the company will often tell them to stop working early on Fridays if they hit 40 hours and have no urgent projects. Needless to say, employees at this company’s competitors don’t get these benefits.

  24. Cheesecake2.0*

    In my previous exempt job, the job description actually said “a minimum of 40 hours a week” and I regularly worked more than that. Theoretically I should have had more flexibility and such but it didn’t really happen in practice, mostly because I had back to back meetings scheduled all day. In my current exempt job, it’s very deliverable based rather than time based so I will often work less than 40 hours a week and flexibility is no issue, I can schedule whatever doctors appointments or other things I need.

  25. chickia*

    It’s all about the money vs your time. No, I’d never take an exempt position for around the minimum of $35,568 and then work 45-60 hrs! (I say that now, but when young and stupid, I absolutely worked insane hours for crappy pay – but that was norm for the industry and I had no calibration to expect anything different). But . . . for 60K? 80K? 100+K? The question for you is: at what point is it worth it to you to work the longer hours? And what’s your promotion path to get to a life changing amount of money? If you had to put in crappy hours for 10 years and then you’d probably have a job that paid 150K a year . . .would you do that? or 300K? 500K? (or whatever you “this is worth it” line is for you). And Allision is completely right — that some companies will give you that flexibility in a slow week to work fewer hours when the work is slower and not charge your PTO with the expectation that you will work longer hours when the work is busier. The scam is when the work is ALWAYS busy! Or when they are not flexible about slower weeks. Or in industries where the expectation is that you kill yourself for x number of years with the expectation that you will make partner (or whatever . . . except that not everyone does make it, so what about them?). And that’s not even getting in bonus structure.

    1. Chilipepper*

      I just did some math, at my workplace, the exempt folks make 10 to 20k more than I do. No thanks!

    2. Beth*

      This is the thing to me–being exempt can be a scam, or it can be excellent, and it all depends on the details of the deal. If you’re decently paid and have a schedule that balances out overall, that’s a good deal for many people. If you have an insane schedule but are insanely well compensated–that won’t work for everyone, but there are definitely people who will be thrilled with it! But if you’re being underpaid, or if you’re being paid decently but expected to put in an insane amount of work that’s above and beyond what’s fair for your compensation level, that’s as good as a scam.

    3. WellOKthen*

      Exactly this. One question I ask when interview for jobs is “What is the typical number of hours per week someone in this role works?”. I evaluate job offers based on the ratio of money to hours expected (knowing, of course, that things change over time and will ebb and flow with how busy things are). For my most recent job, I ended up accepting the offer that was a slightly lower salary than another but the manager assured me was really only 40 hours per week. It was a way better deal per hour than the other offer and also a way better deal for my work/life balance.

  26. Chilipepper*

    My employer also makes it possible to move up only if you become exempt and while I would like the ability to have more impact, I can see that my bosses don’t actually get to have that much influence over things that matter, don’t get that much more flexibility (they have to take PTO if they work under 40 hours), and get lots more work. They don’t often have to work tons more hours, but they do have to manage people (and our system manages people poorly). And the extra pay is not, imho, worth the tasks they do.

  27. KHB*

    “The way it’s supposed to work is if you’re salaried/exempt, you’re getting paid to do a job, not for a specific number of hours. So if you work 45 hours one week and 36 hours the next, that’s supposed to be okay.”

    To me, this sounds more like contract/freelance work than a full-time exempt position. In my line of work, anyway, it’s not usually possible to completely disentangle the “job” from the “hours,” because one part of the job is being available during core business hours to collaborate with colleagues, answer questions, or handle anything that comes up. There’s room for some flexibility on exact start/stop times, but if you’re taking an entire half day off, you’re expected to use PTO (or comp time that you’ve formally arranged) for that.

    To me, the appeal of being exempt is that I don’t have to justify what I’m doing every minute to the employer. So if I have an assignment due on Monday morning, but my brain isn’t quite in gear to finish it on Friday afternoon, I can work on the finishing touches over the weekend without having to get anyone’s approval for doing that. If I were exempt, I wouldn’t just be entitled to be paid for the weekend hours, I’d be required to. So my boss would probably want to know what I was doing all day Friday and why I couldn’t have just finished the assignment then.

    Now, my employer is one of the good ones, in that they don’t assign more work than can (usually) be finished in a 40-hour week, and they give us plenty of PTO to cover the occasional afternoon off. If it were otherwise, I’d probably feel differently.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Contract and freelance both mean you get paid for each hour you work. Exempt is supposed to mean that if you work under 40 hours you *don’t* make less pay. That’s really different. (However, lots of “contractors” are actually employees of a different company and lots of employers expect exempt people to work 40 hours every week.)

      1. KHB*

        Maybe we’re referring to different things. I’m thinking about contract/freelance work of the form “we’ll pay you $X for every widget you make for us.” It doesn’t matter when or where you make the widget or how long it takes you – you make a widget, you get $X. So if you’re such a genius widget maker that you can make widgets twice as fast as anyone else, you can work 20 hours a week, and still get paid for what the company sees at 40 hours worth of work.

        It’s true that in a full-time exempt position, the company can’t dock your pay if you work less than your full-time hours. But they can nevertheless require you to be there for a certain set of hours (or take PTO to make up for any shortfall), and fire you if you’re not.

        In fact, it’s the requirement of being present for certain hours that’s exactly why certain “contract” positions should really be classified as full-time exempt. Contractors are supposed to have freedom to decide when, where, and how to do their work, in a way that full-time employees don’t necessarily do.

  28. Allie*

    I’m salaried but also get OT when a project calls for it. I have to log and bill tasks though so there’s work shown for the OT.

    1. Is the juice worth the squeeze*

      Same, I’m salaried, exempt, but still get OT and I absolutely love it. My OT is straight time, not time and a half, but I get the flexibility and security of a salary while still being paid for ALL of the work I do, not just the first 40 hours of it.

    2. Picard*

      salaried is different than exempt or non exempt. One is a method of payment and one is a federally regulated work classification.

  29. JC*

    Yep- my company made it mandatory to accept a promotion as so many people had turned it down (for exactly the reasons here- longer hours, losing significant money from overtime, more stress, 1 way flexibility). I am ambitious and want to progress my career, but cried when I was eventually promoted because it felt like a complete demotion- the promise of the prestige of the title bump really didn’t outweigh losing 30 grand in my paycheck (was regularly working up to 20 hours a week overtime). Led to loss of confidence in my abilities, skewed perception of a healthy workplace, unhealthy eating and complete burnout from the lack of flexibility. My manager even yelled at me in 2020 for not working hard enough (I had asked to drop down to 35 hours a week and was apparently trying to “coast on part time hours”). So glad I’m out of there! I am now looking for a position where I’m paid for my exact hours, so I can earn overtime if needed or take time off when I want.

  30. A Simple Narwhal*

    Woof this gave me flashbacks to a lousy job I had years ago. I was salaried, and they specifically said they wanted me working evening and weekend events because otherwise they’d have to pay the hourly people money, whereas I was “free”. I also worked late almost everyday but they’d get mad if I was ever a few minutes late. They told me they expected me to be early every day to ensure I would never be late (no business reason for it, just what they wanted) but I was never allowed to take a longer lunch or leave early to make up for it – getting in early or working late was on my own time, longer lunches or leaving early would be stealing from their time.

    My current (still salaried) job I never work more than 40 hours/week and make 3x what I did at my awful former job. It is 100% possible to be salaried and not screwed, but too many companies take advantage of it.

  31. Ray Gillette*

    How very timely. I pulled an 11-hour day yesterday and then had to deal with a family emergency in the evening, and I am so very, very tired. Can’t take time off though because we’re in crunch time.

    I’m at the stage where nobody was going to yell at me for leaving on time, but if I didn’t stay, I’d have had an even bigger mess to clean up the following day.

  32. Lynn*

    At my company it was well known, for many years, that becoming a manager/exempt employee would mean, functionally, a cut in salary. We were allowed to work all the overtime we wanted, so becoming exempt cut out all of that lovely overtime pay. They have since cut back on allowable OT to pretty much none, so at least these days managers do actually make more than their employees. That means that I put in my 40 hours, then put my work away and don’t think about it again until the next week.

    The flexibility issue isn’t as big a perk for exempt folks in my company, just because the rest of us have huge amounts of autonomy and flexibility as well. I set my own schedule, and can flex it if needed to account for things that might come up-even on short/no notice. As long as I bill my 40 hours and get my work done, no one will question it. Exempt employees have the option, some weeks, to work less than 40 weeks-though they definitely, on average, put in more hours than I do weekly.

    There are, of course, other companies where that calculation is different (often by a huge amount).

  33. Squidhead*

    In my line of work, I look at the trade-offs. I’m an inpatient RN. I work off-shift and weekends, which increases my pay. I’m eligible for OT and it’s never been questioned when it was needed for patient care. I generally work 7 days out of 14, but they aren’t consistent days and they are mostly 12+ hour shifts. Even without OT I make more than my manager, who is expected to keep core business hours (8 hour days, minimum) plus be available for all kinds of emergencies. I get 3 or 4 days off sometimes while she only has 2-day weekends (but they are consistent, barring emergencies). She has to discipline, hire, and fire people, none of which have ever appealed to me. I have no circadian rhythm and feel like a zombie on my first day off. And I don’t want her job. She makes less than I do and has to deal with a bunch of stuff I don’t want to do! Others, however, can’t wait to get off of night shift or move onto management roles because it appeals to them personally and/or professionally. I’m currently comfortable knowing I’ve basically locked myself into a particular track by eschewing management as a career option. Thank goodness we’re not all the same! (I also work for a large hospital with a union, so salary transparency is fairly easy to discover if you know where to look.)

  34. no name*

    A lot of how exempt hours are handled comes down to the manager as well – if you feel secure that you’ll be working under someone who understands that people have commitments and needs (Dr appt, picking up kids, etc) you may be more willing to take an exempt/salaried position if you need flexibility. I’d also note that post-pandemic, there may be even more room for negotiation on partially or fully remote work setups in some exempt roles. So if you value that, you could ask your company about it before considering moving to a salaried/exempt role.

  35. BlueWolf*

    I am salaried, non-exempt, and I have a set schedule I am expected to work (9-5:30, M-F, 1 hour lunch). Sure, there’s not quite as much flexibility, but when I sign off at 5:30, I don’t have to think about work until I sign on again at 9 the next morning. I feel like more often than not, exempt workers have to work longer hours or more off hours (evenings, weekends) and rarely get the tradeoff in return to make it worth it. I have to use PTO to take any time off for any reason (sick/vacation in one bucket), but our PTO is pretty generous by U.S. standards, so if I need to take a few hours off for a doctor’s appointment I’m not that bothered by it. Granted, I’m healthy, so I rarely need to take sick time or time off for appointments. I could see how the flexibility of being exempt would be better for someone with more health difficulties.

  36. Tracy*

    I am a salaried non-exempt (hourly) employee. I will always prefer it to being a salaried (exempt) employee. It means I can have boundaries.

    Boss messages me at 6:45 a.m.? Sorry, that will have to wait until I get in at 7:30. Have an emergency project at 4:15? Well of course I can get started on that .. tomorrow morning. I understand that no one is perfectly organized but it does tend to get people to think about priorities.

    There tends to be more benefits and higher pay for non-overtime positions or people wouldn’t agree to take them. Higher bonuses, deferred compensation .. I am sure there are other things that I’m not aware of. And that’s okay. Life is good being hourly.

    1. Veronica*

      I think the boundaries has a lot to do with the job. I am exempted and I’ve always been able to maintain good boundaries. Part of that was asking questions when I interviewed at various companies to find out if the hiring manager had good boundaries too. One of my interviews lasted until 6 pm. This would normally be a red flag, except the manager indicated he came in at 10/10:30 each day. It was actually good because I could look around the office and see that at 6 pm it was very very empty and quiet.
      I also worked in an hourly job that required me to be available for shifts with limited notice and didn’t let me plan ahead more than a few days at a time.

      1. ThisMakesMeCranky*

        I’ve been salaried forever. I don’t regularly work over 40 hours a week. If I have to work extra to meet a deadline or have a meeting, I then take some comp time later. If I have to work late or early with folks in other time zones, I cut out early and grab a nap. If my work takes more than 40 a week regularly, that’s too much work and I let them know I will need to deprioritize something. If my work takes less than 40 hours, well, good, I’m efficient and take some time to relax. If there’s some kind of last minute emergency caused by my boss more than very rarely… I don’t let it be my emergency.

        I don’t ask. I don’t beg. I just assume that they will be giving me the same flexibility than I give them as a salaried employee. I look for red flags on this in interviews, but even when other people work crazy hours I just… don’t.

        Now, I’m extremely good at what I do and try to be very easy to work with. You need me to do X, I will give it my all. I love to learn, I say yes to new things, I’m not a pain in the a$$. But this is my bright line. If I regularly worked longer hours, my work quality would decrease and I’ve said as much to my bosses in the past. I set my boundaries and over all, I’d say it hasn’t impacted my career prospects or success. I’m very happy with where I’m at in terms of title and salary; I’m in demand and get good reviews.

        Frankly, if more people just set their boundaries in a natural way and allowed themselves to care about their work and their lives equally, well, in my experience most employers will respect that (or at least won’t push back). And that’s why I don’t ever want to be hourly. I love this level of flexibility and I expect it as part of being salaried.

    2. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      I think this also is job-specific though. When I was non-exempt/hourly I still had to respond to the e-mail at 6:45am (or 10pm or whatever), I just got to log that as overtime. I definitely didn’t find that I could just turn things off at the end of the day and on again at the beginning, it was simply a different pay structure (I got paid less but got overtime for extra hours worked. Now I get paid more, but no overtime, and I still come out ahead). Life was relatively the same when I was hourly and salaried.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Plenty of salaried people set boundaries. And plenty of hourly people don’t, based on the letters Alison gets.

  37. Secretary*

    My job is non-exempt, but meets the requirements that I could go exempt if I wanted to, I would just need to talk to my boss. I haven’t because I don’t think he would be able to handle it during slow weeks if I worked less than 40 hours.

  38. Faith the twilight slayer*

    When I came back to a workplace I had left before, they actually asked how much it would take to bring me back and they gave internet to me. I assumed I would be salary, but I am being paid through federal funds and was told I am hourly and my limit is just under 40 hours a week – absolutely no exceptions. I have had a couple other conversations with my boss about needing more time to fix A TON of stuff that needs to be fixed, and blessings upon her for saying “well, it’s been wrong this long, and your current stuff is kept up, so a little bit longer is OK. I am not going to let you burn yourself out”. I can sort of manipulate my schedule so that if my hard work takes a bit longer on due dates then I just leave early or take a long lunch to even it out, so deadlines are still met. And as long as I am making progress she’s good. Some days I look at it from a distance and know how lucky I am.

    1. Faith the twilight slayer*

      OMG! They didn’t just randomly throw internet at me. Ducking auto correct.

      1. Another worker bee*

        Lol, and I was thinking “ hmm I should try to negotiate that for my next job”

      2. Amaranth*

        I had this mental picture that part of the negotiation for your return was replacing a 500bps modem with wifi and upgrading old CRT monitors.

  39. Public Sector Manager*

    My team and I are all public sector lawyers, so we’re salaried and exempt. And it’s absolutely a one way street. When it’s a slow time of year for us, our agency head still makes us stay in the office because one of public agency clients “might” have a question. Even when we push back with minimal staffing for what might happen, our agency head pushes back with that there “might” be more work than minimum staffing can handle. The second I need to take off an hour for the dentist, or leave at 3 pm to do to a doctor’s appointment, and even though 100% of my work is done, I get nickeled and dimed on PTO use. I’ve worked 23 hour shifts at my desk (e.g. 8 am Tuesday to 7 am Wednesday), and because my next work day doesn’t start until 8 am, my employer will make me take PTO for taking the day off, even though I’ve already worked 7 hours that calendar day.

    I wouldn’t mind it so much if I could come and go as I please. But I’m literally chained to my desk for my employer’s convenience, even when I have no work to do.

    1. miss chevious*

      Ugh, this is the worst of both worlds — having to do the time when there is the work AND when there isn’t! I’m also a lawyer (salaried and exempt), but my employer is much better about understanding the rhythm of the work. So, sure, we’re expected to work over to get things done when need be, but there’s no questions about using PTO for appointments or anything (the answer is DON’T), we come and go as we please as long as we’re reachable if we’re supposed to be working, and we wouldn’t be charged PTO for the 23 hour shifts you described.

      In short, PTO is supposed to be used when you’re actually off, and if you’re missing an hour of “work time” to go to an appointment or run an errand, the assumption is you make up that hour or it balances out. We don’t track our time officially here, so it’s really more of a management issue, making sure that people are getting things done and are available when they’re supposed to be.

      The upside of exempt, to me, is the flexibility. If I didn’t have that, I’d be looking for another job.

    2. QED*

      Strange–I’m also a public sector lawyer, and have had a completely different experience! When we were in office, the general expectation was that we’d arrive sometime before 10am and in general, leave after doing an 8 hour day with a half hour lunch. Sometimes people would work longer days than that, particularly people who came from a big law background and were used to 90 hour weeks, but unless I was on a deadline I couldn’t move, I never did. People would also make up time that way, like if they switched off with their spouse who picked up the kids. And PTO was for when you took a full day off, or maybe a half day, if you were going to be totally unreachable during that half day. But what most of us did if we had doctor’s appointments or had to pick up kids was just tell everyone we were reachable by phone if it was urgent and check our email periodically if we could while we were out.

      WFH does make it harder to leave work at work, but it also increases the schedule flexibility for us–a lot of my coworkers with kids have been working odd hours to do child care, and as long as we can have meetings when we need to during the work day, it’s been fine. I definitely did not have that flexibility in my pre-law school job when I was salaried non-exempt. That job also didn’t want to ever pay overtime, so if I worked any, I had to take it as comp time in the same work week, which wasn’t always when I would have preferred to take it.

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        Your experience is the experience about 97% of our counterparts in other state offices have. We’re the total outlier.

  40. TW*

    I love being paid hourly. Since overtime needs to be pre-approved by management (and never is) I have no choice but to stop working at 5pm. I would actually get in trouble if I remained in the building (or remotely logged it) outside of my paid hours.

  41. And they all rolled over*

    All else being equal, hourly has a lot of advantages over exempt. But when is all else equal? In my industry, software engineering in the US, the choice is pretty much between exempt “permanent” employee or hourly contract employee. So if I want the stability of a “permanent” position, I have to accept a non-hourly position. Luckily, jobs are abundant enough that we get to choose between the places where exempt means “40 hours or so” and the places where it means “80 to 100 hours.”

  42. Elliot*

    Maybe this system does need to be re-worked, and I will start with the caveat that I am exempt at a company that handles it very well – I am granted tons of flexibility and freedom as long as my work is done.

    There are a few huge benefits to being exempt that I feel like are not mentioned enough:
    1) in general, I am micro-manged so much less as an exempt employee compared to when I was non-exempt and hourly. Instead of having to prove and track that I work 40 hours every week, and having to seek approval if I wanted to put in an hour more to finish something pressing, I am allowed to work as I see fit to meet the needs of my position.

    2) High level work! As an hourly employee I was doing mundane and repetitive tasks that didn’t take much critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, or collaboration – I know that isn’t how all hourly positions are, but I find it’s more common for hourly positions to be more dull and repetitive. Now, I am doing something I love on a daily basis. I’d honestly take a pay CUT to do high-level work that shows me my brain is valued. It makes me so much happier.

    3) In general, due to the culture (which as AAM pointed out, should be questioned!) exempt and salaried roles “look” better and at my company, they help people advance in their careers more. This is something that appeals to me and I’m willing to answer an email on a Saturday or work 50 hours a few weeks a year to have a better chance at moving up.

    1. Jellyfish*

      On Thursday, I’m taking the dog to the vet in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t need to ask for permission, give up my lunch break, clock out, or take PTO. I’m just going to grab the dog and go. Maybe we’ll even run through a drive through and grab a drink on the way home.

      That element of being exempt is so very nice after a decade of hourly jobs where I couldn’t make any kind of appointment or even manage personal emergencies during work hours without irritating the boss and either giving up very limited PTO or losing pay.

      So I agree, the upsides are significant when it’s not used as a way for companies to squeeze extra labor at no extra cost.

    2. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      Your #2 is big for me. I want to work on strategic roles and be in The Room Where it Happens, and I would never have gotten to do that as a non-exempt employee.

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      Your first point also raises another possibility: there have occasionally been times in my professional life when I’ve wanted to put in a few extra hours on something simply because I am personally taking pride in what I’m doing and genuinely want to turn out better than normal product. Just for my own satisfaction.

      There have been a variety of reasons for this: wanting to increase my skills on a task or a certain piece of software; wanting to create a “portfolio” piece for my own career; angling for some sort of advancement; sometimes I’m just really, really into it and want to do something spectacular because it’s . . . fun (I know, gasp!)

      I admit this may not be a common situation. But it does happen, and I suppose that is a possible benefit of being exempt. If I had to request some sort of clearance for staying a couple extra hours because I’m a nerd who really wants to figure out a complex Excel formula, I doubt such things would be approved.

      1. Filosofickle*

        My first job was hourly and I ran into that. We had no OT except in extraordinary circumstances. But, as a designer, there were definitely times when another hour or two would have made a world of difference! I wasn’t finished exploring an idea and wanted to keep going! Nope, I had to stop. This wasn’t me wanting to work unpaid time for the glory and profit of my employer — it was for my own creative satisfaction and, even more importantly, for the portfolio pieces I needed to move on from this boring, entry-level position. We didn’t get a lot of opportunities to do anything fun, so when they came up it would have been worth it to me to put in a little more time to play.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah, this is me. I’m salaried non-exempt and can absolutely turn off work at quitting time (both from a what-my-company-expects perspective and a what-is-actually-required-by-my-job perspective). About once a year, I wind up working on something very complicated and very high profile and I’ll put in a few extra hours over the course of a month because if it’s going to my great-great-grandboss and then to a regulatory body, I’m going to make that thing *perfect*. And a perfectly coded Excel workbook that takes a very complicated evaluation and turns it into something easily digestible is a thing of joy forever.

        And to be completely honest, I do sometimes get paid for overtime though I just get my straight time rate for my hours worked. But that’s not for “Clever wants to make this perfect,” it’s for “there is an emergency that is preventing our rate payers from using our utility and Clever’s position is vitally important to restoring services.”

  43. Justice*

    When I moved up from hourly to exempt, I also moved into the bonus eligibility pool.
    I shouldn’t be surprised that there are companies that would move you out of overtime eligibility without giving you any compensation, but I guess I am, because I just assumed that was the way it worked.
    But my company is not huge on working more than 40 hours if you don’t absolutely have to, either. And they’ve been excellent during the pandemic. Just another reason to count my blessings!

  44. HR Survivor*

    I am retired now but in hindsight I see that being exempt is jut another form of indentured servitude. I worked for a couple of U.S defense contractors so I was required to report my daily hours worked with the expectation that they be at least 40 or above 99% of the time. The ostensible reason was that they had to report how many hours were worked on a project, but I was in corporate HR in “overhead” positions supporting many different contracts. If I needed to take time off/leave early, I was expected to make it up by the end of the week to hit 40 hours. At one point, my management had conniptions because I was not able to get to work one morning (and possibly the rest of the day) because I was dealing with the immediate aftermath of a burst water heater pipe flooding my finished basement. I was doing two jobs at the same time to fill in for a maternity leave and had been putting in 50+ hour weeks for a couple of months but they could not be flexible to allow me to deal with a household emergency.

  45. Instructional Designer*

    I know it’s not true from for everyone but in my experience an exempt position or a salaried position is one in which you’re paid to get your job done. So if you happen to finish all of your work for the moment it’s not a big deal if you end early or start late, etc. I’ve never found that I couldn’t take breaks throughout the day or relax if I needed to. Sometimes I work more than 40 hours and sometimes I work less. Of course the expectation is that you average 40 hours, but it’s never felt like I was being taken advantage of. I know not all organizations are like this but I think the key is to ask the right questions during interviews to get an idea of what kind of environment it’ll be. If it sounds like one where people are going to take it vantage of you because you’re salaried or exempt, then that gives you a lot of answers and helps you ensure that you’re not going to get stuck in that kind of a position.

  46. Spearmint*

    This has always bothered me. I’ve had two salaried jobs, and both had periods of the year with significant downtime where I legitimately only had 2-3 hours of non-urgent work a day, but I was still expected to be in the office/logged into my computer from 9-5. It makes no sense. Why couldn’t I just do my own thing and be reachable by phone if anything truly urgent came up? And these offices were really good about work life balance in general, with limited overtime, generous PTO, etc.

    One thing I like about WFH is that it makes the playing field a bit more even for the employee on this front. On slow days, I sometimes log on, check my email, and then do chores/goof off until 11am, and I’ve definitely snuck off to the grocery store a few times too.

    1. Amaranth*

      In many cases this seems to link back to a perception of ‘fairness’. I don’t know why some companies and managers find it impossible to explain to other workers ‘you have a different job description, your hours work differently.’ My best guess is they think its cheaper to penalize one group by chaining them to the office unnecessarily rather than finding other perks for workers who can’t have that flexibility.

  47. HR Recruiter*

    At some places this is so true. I left a company that required exempt employees to work 50+ hours a week. I only had about 30 hours worth of work to do many weeks. But had to be there 50 hours. One time I asked if I could leave 10 minutes early to beat traffic to go to an appointment. OMG if looks could kill.

  48. PT*

    Several of my salaried managers calculated that they were being paid *less* than their lower-level hourly employees, once you factored in all of the hours they actually worked.

    1. James*

      When I started in project management that was something I was warned about. I earn more per hour, but since field work is scheduled at 10 hours a day, 5 days a week (industry standard, and honestly not that stressful given the nature of the work), and office work is more a 40 hour a week thing, I’d likely lose money at first.

      Since I’m also not out in the middle of toxic waste spills taking samples on a daily basis anymore, I take this as a fair trade-off. Maybe in five years I’ll think differently, but for now I’m still happy to do it!

  49. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    I think what you’re describing is very specific to your company and your line of work, and not necessarily universal.

    “As an hourly employee, I’m generally not working more than 42 hours on any given week. I get two 15-minute breaks and a half hour lunch. I have the luxury of logging off and not having to think about work for the rest of the day. And of course, overtime!”

    That was never my experience as an hourly employee at my company. For me, the only difference between when I was non-exempt and exempt was the overtime. I was still expected to be available at off hours (though I was able to log them when I was), I never was able to log off and not think about work, and I regularly had to work through lunch (though I was paid for it when I did). So, for me, in my line of work, exempt life and non-exempt life are very similar, and as long as the pay bump is commensurate, all it meant to me to get an exempt role was I got paid more and was doing more interesting work.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      So, for me, in my line of work, exempt life and non-exempt life are very similar, and as long as the pay bump is commensurate, all it meant to me to get an exempt role was I got paid more and was doing more interesting work.

      That’s about where I came down on the issue. I preferred hourly/non-exempt until salaried/exempt got to the point where I was making more than the overtime, whether I worked it or not. I do miss overtime acting as a visible cost to operating beyond capacity, though.

      It also changed my perspective a bit. As an hourly programmer, I was writing myself out of income to revamp a process or program to automate it and make it more efficient. As a salaried programmer, (at least some of) the time I’m clawing back will be mine–this is the source of my assertion that my value is not in the work that I do, but rather in the work that I no longer do.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is probably more dependent on your location than the business or work; in California where I am, breaks are mandatory for hourly employees — working, or being required to work, through breaks or lunch (paid or not) would be illegal for non-exempt workers; but they’re not mandatory for exempt employees, and it’s legal for exempt workers to be required to work through lunch. There are also rules about hourly employees being paid a premium for working a split shift too, even if it doesn’t take them over 8 hours for the day.

    3. EH*

      Yeah, what field you’re in and what you do make all the difference.

      I’m a tech writer, and always always look for salaried/exempt/captive positions. The alternative is contracting, where every 3-6 months you wait to find out if you still have a job (ie if they will renew your contract). My last contracted gig, I didn’t find out if I was getting renewed until two weeks before the end of the contract. At another contract gig, my contract was ended early! It’s wildly stressful and the benefits are almost invariably awful (no PTO at all, even holidays, for example). With a salary I usually get: decent benefits, including PTO, sick time, insurance, etc. Also salaried gigs usually last at least a few years, whereas contracts legally cannot run over 18 months (there have been some interesting lawsuits over this stuff in tech).

      Companies can still jerk you around/be toxic/etc when you’re salaried, and some companies definitely expect ridiculous hours for some salaried positions. I’ve been lucky so far (knock wood). I contracted for a couple of years and it ruined my finances. I’ve been at my current salaried gig almost 3 years and finally have savings again. It’s a relief.

  50. mcfizzle*

    My 20-ish years of work experience (in the USA) is that in the private sector, exempt is a total scam. However, I have been in the public (school district) sector for over a decade as exempt, and in general, it’s far more reasonable. Still, exempt/salaried would be a very real concern if I ever consider going back to private.

    1. Opalescent Tree Shark*

      I was just popping in to say that education is a different beast— where I work, teachers have a special exempt status where they are basically NEVER going to be allowed to earn overtime no matter what is ever decided politically, and it’s pretty widely acknowledged that that’s for budget reasons as the government could never afford to actually pay for the hours teachers work outside the classroom. I definitely work a LOT of overtime— especially this year!

  51. Lurker*

    In my industry, the assumption is that if you are exempt, you are getting paid more so if there is a busy week where you have to stay late to get something done, you do it. I have been hourly, non-exempt and I didn’t like it because if I didn’t work I didn’t get paid. Salaried exempt is the best because you get paid the same regardless of hours worked. At ex-job I definitely worked about 50 hours most weeks. At my current job I am much better about not working that much; primarily because I hate my job and don’t want to put in extra effort.

    When I was non-exempt my horrid manager would say we all had to help our department colleagues with after hours programs (which was fine with me), but whenever I’d request overtime pay in lieu of comp time (it was a government job; I was young and poor so preferred the money), she suddenly didn’t need my help. Then at my annual evaluation I was told I wasn’t a team player because I never helped after hours. (Insert eyeroll here.)

  52. Cedrus Libani*

    As I think about it, hourly and salaried are two different social contracts. If I’m hourly, you are literally renting me by the hour. You can expect me to be on time to my scheduled shift, and to be on task when I’m on the clock. On the flip side, once I’ve clocked out, I can forget about work completely until my next shift.

    If I’m salaried, I am getting paid to get stuff done. As long as I get stuff done and don’t create operational headaches, I can set my own schedule. On the flip side, I’m probably taking work home with me – not just in the literal sense, but also thinking about it during my downtime. And because there’s no fixed schedule, it’s hard to get the balance of doing enough to be good at your job, but not so much that you’re letting them take advantage of you.

    There are employers who won’t hold up their end of the salary-worker deal. They think nothing of calling you at 9:05 PM, but if you show up “late” at 9:05 AM it’s the end of the world. Heaven forbid you’re “absent” during business hours even if you’re more than making it up elsewhere. But there are also employers who exploit their hourly workers, whether by not paying them for required parts of their job (e.g. a team meeting “before” the shift begins) or by pressuring them into not reporting their overtime. Jerks gotta jerk.

  53. Sled Dog Mama*

    US based and Full-Time exempt, some of my work simply can’t be done during normal working hours because the equipment must be available to treat patients. My boss is very sympathetic to the fact that our career can take over your life if you let it and in very understanding of the 45 hour week followed by a 36 hour week. Boss man has us track our hours because he doesn’t want anyone working more than 50 hours a week under any circumstances and he uses the hours worked to see if he needs to shift people around to provide extra support.
    I’m usually in the office a minimum of 36 hours a week but some weeks there is not that much work. We are encouraged to get our required professional development hours in on weeks like even though we supposedly have days built into our (single bucket) PTO for doing it.

    For me it’s not a scam but my company handles it well.

    1. Spearmint*

      Yeah, the exempt/non-exempt experience varies so much based on company (or even departmental) culture. Exempt can mean “40 hours minimum, no flexibility for the employee, no compensation for overtime” but it can also mean “we don’t clock watch or charge you PTO for appointments, you can leave early on slow days, you get informal comp time for significant overtime”, and everything in between.

      Similarly, non-exempt can mean “you clock out at 5 everyday and don’t think about work in the evenings, and you get overtime on the rare occasions you do have to work long hours” but it can also mean “we own you when you’re working, you need to use PTO even for a 1 hr societies appointment, any distractions are stealing from the company, and you’re still on call even if you’re paid when you work evenings and weekends”.

  54. Strict Extension*

    I recently moved from an hourly position to a salaried position at a different organization. I think a lot of these factors are more about the job and the employer that the pay status. My hourly job was something I took home mentally almost every day—partly because I never had enough hours to get done the tasks that loomed over my head—and it wasn’t uncommon on days off to get a text that said, “Sorry to bother you, but…” My salaried job has tasks that keep me busy while I’m there, but I leave them behind without guilt when I’m not, and while I’m still newish, I haven’t been pressured to work any more than my “scheduled” 37.5 hours a week (quite the opposite, actually).

    Another advantage of being salaried that I don’t think has been mentioned is having a predictable income. As an hourly employee, I couldn’t really predict when circumstances—both at the job and in the rest of my life—might put me at the 35-hour minimum for the week or approved for and expected to work ten hours overtime. Yes, it was nice to get the overtime pay, but in my position, it wasn’t something to be counted on, so it couldn’t really be budgeted for effective until after the fact, and just budgeting for the minimum pay wasn’t really a fair picture of my finances either.

  55. Mattieflap*

    My problem with hourly work is that the company can become excessively focused on what hours you are there to the exact minute. They can say they offer flex time but then get cranky if you actually utilize it. They will dock PTO if you leave five minutes early or insist you clock out and clock in again to run a 10 min errand midday. And then there is being told you MUST work overtime.

    I am leaving a hourly job and moving to a salaried one in part because the way my current employer treats its employees is horrendous and overbearing. The culture at the new company is not like that despite being salaried.

    Honestly, the hourly positions I’ve held have been worse BY FAR with regard to culture than the salaried positions. Being salaried, in my experience (which I know is not everyone’s experience), denotes a level of treating your employees like adults.

    1. Firecat*

      I had the exact same experience as you … when I was exempt. People would watch the Salaried staff who left “right at 5” and give them dirty looks. If I got in at 8:05 and dropped of my lunchbox on the way up you could bet my manager was going to call me from out of State by 8:30- even if the prior week I worked 70 hours for no extra compensation it did not matter.

      I’m currently hourly and have tons of flexibility. Dr appointment? Feel free to skip lunch or make it up tomorrow as long as my timesheet says 40 by the end of the week my boss doesn’t care. And for any break shorter then 30 minutes we are told not to clock out. No waiting for your “official 15 min break” for the bathroom or anything like that. We are responsible for that on our own. They don’t even track our 15 minute breaks.

      The only draw back is when we have staff lunches or parties. I usually have to clock out for those but they are so rare compared to consitently expected to work 45 hours plus that it’s hardly a draw back.

      Oh and I was making 35,000 a year when I was “exempt” but I currently make $74,000 pre OT so I can’t say that pay has been a factor either.

  56. Jake*

    I’ve been exempt my whole working life, and my whole family has been non-exempt their whole working life.

    My experience is that most employers treat it like the LW’s. It is a one way street where, sure, you just have to work what the job requires. The job just happens to require more than 40 hours a week all the time.

    What I do see as the ultimate benefit of being exempt is the fact that being a high performer can be rewarded in a wider variety of ways, like my current employer does. For example, after a particularly trying 16 month project, I was offered the chance to work 20 hours a week for a month as a cool down period. My pay would’ve stayed the same. I turned the chance down and instead opted for a position that didn’t reduce my hours for the next few months, but gave me a great opportunity to lower my stress and learn new skills in a low pressure environment. I then turned that into a new full time gig that brought me back to a more standard level of pressure and stress.

    Additionally, our high performers don’t get asked questions about where they are, when they came in, when they left, etc. The assumption is that the job is getting done until proven otherwise. While that may seem like it is obvious, in my experience 75% of my exempt positions have not looked at it that way.

    Finally, being exempt allows me to work at weird times if I want. About 40% of my job is solitary number crunching. If I want to lounge on my couch with my laptop on my stomach while eating cheetos at 3 am while I catch up on some work… I just do. If I want to sleep in and show up at 8:30 instead of 7… I just do.

    Is it frustrating when I work 55 hours in a week and get the same paycheck as when I work 40? It is. However, it really comes down to how much you value flexibility, and how much you trust your employer to actually make good on that.

    Overall, I think most exempt positions ARE scams. Big time scams. However, there are real employers out there that actually treat their exempt employees fairly.

  57. Blisskrieg*

    For my field, the benefit of salary is much higher earning potential. Yes, I am working more hours, but I am making significantly more than any company would pay me at an hourly rate. I definitely, consistently work more than 40 hours per week, but I am making more than double (probably triple) than any hourly workers I know in the same field. For me, the earning potential was key. I am very career driven and a workaholic, so this is a fair trade off for me.

  58. Boss betta have my money!*

    I was the only hourly person in my department at my last job, and let me tell you it was a blessing. We all worked at least 40 hours, and several in my department were expected to worked more. This was often because my managers were poor at managing time and always liked to give tasks at the end of the day that were “urgent” (ie, Boss has a deadline tomorrow and needs info from us and this is the first time they tell us). I was able to tell them, sure, I’ll do it, but it will put me into overtime. Or, sure, I’ll do this weekend event, but it will put me into overtime. Yes, PAY ME for every moment you ask of me. Especially if it’s because they didn’t plan correctly.

    Even better was that every summer I was working a minimum of 50 hours a week, so 10 of those hours are overtime.

    Before I was laid off, they kept promising to “promote me” into a salaried position. I knew I would end up with less money for doing the same work, and I refused and pushed back as long as possible. (I was since laid off, but don’t cry for me, Argentina, I got a new (and better) job. )

  59. DeeBeeDubz*

    I understand that this comment won’t be popular, but I think that it should be illegal to expect an employee to work more than 40 hours per week without increasing their pay. Everyone should be paid hourly and document the hours they work, whether that’s 9-5 Monday to Friday only, or if they’re logging in from home and working after hours, or what have you. I also think that (while exempt status still exists) the government should be auditing every company who claims to have exempt employees and make an independent evaluation of whether their work/job qualifies. Clearly employers are abusing the system by classifying some employees as exempt when they are not, and then refusing to pay them overtime. Businesses can’t be trusted not to take advantage, so the choice should be taken away from them.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Agree! The rules for what constitutes “exempt” ought to be very clear.
      And a 40 hour workweek, 8 hour workday is still supposed to be the norm!

    2. Squidhead*

      I agree but I don’t agree…Here’s my perspective: I’m a hospital RN in a union. Our pay periods are 2 weeks long and FT=80 hours/pay period. We don’t get OT if we work >40 hours in 7 days, but we get it if we work >80 hours in 14 days. This allows (in my experience) a lot of flexibility in staff scheduling. It makes it easier to allow 12-hour shifts, which many RNs prefer. In 80 hours, you can work 6 12’s and 1 8, while if you’re capped at 40 hours in 7 days you’re more likely to work 2 12’s and 2 8’s since 4-hour shifts aren’t very helpful. (Some hospitals consider 36 hours to be FT but mine doesn’t). It lets me request to work 48 hours one week (4 shifts) and get 4 days off in a row the following week without using any PTO time. In general it means I have 7 days off out of every 14 instead of 5 out of 14. It *is* open to some abuse, as it does mean I can be scheduled to work 72 hours in 7 days, but even when this happens it washes out elsewhere. Meanwhile, other direct-care departments in my hospital have a different union and are restricted to 40-hour weeks. They work more days as I described above. Obviously, my perspective focuses on shift-based, coverage-based work. But to me a 40-hour week is inconveniently limiting! I’d rather work longer shifts on fewer days and have more time off.

      I definitely agree that exempt status should be applied more stringently..see my top-level comment about making more than my manager does, even though she is expected to keep core hours and also (by the nature of the industry) can be called on in truly unexpected, un-plannable, 24/7 emergencies. She frequently works >40 hours/week and has to get another manager to cover her if she then flexes her time to make up for it.

  60. Lanie Webster*

    I think that salaried non-exempt jobs are the best of both worlds. You get that flexibility, but you also get paid overtime.

  61. Sparkles McFadden*

    From the employee point of view, it really is a scam. It’s a relatively easy scam to run too, because a surprising number of people will give up overtime money for a hollow management-sounding title. I saw people accept a title in lieu of a raise. It was ridiculous.

    I worked more than half of my career on the clock. I tried very hard never to take an off the clock job. But…in my company, if you wanted a very technical job, or to oversee larger-scale, company-wide projects (where you’d need to be a manager), you’d have to be off the clock.

    In my case, since I was covered by a union, I told upper management (with the support of the union) that I would only go off the clock if they would match my salary with all of my overtime plus 5%. They agreed to this and the management job also included enrollment in a bonus program, so it worked out for me financially, but I worked all…the…time. I did make sure my (exempt) staff always took lunch and worked reasonable hours, and my boss kept an eye on that too but most managers didn’t do that. There’s really no upside for individual contributors to be off the clock.

  62. Black Horse Dancing*

    I know so many people who would love to be exempt. Why? Simple. Pay is higher, flexibility is greater, respect is greater. It will all depend on your company/employer but hourly people are often treated like dirt and with contempt in many businesses–or simple benign neglect and by society in general. Look at the kerfuffle over simply giving (a still not) living wage of $15/hour. We call grocery clerks heroes yet they aren’t paid crap. Nor are CNAs, government clerks, secretaries, etc. Unless they are higher ranked, people simply don’t have the same respect for them as they do someone with a title even though the hourly person may do much the same as the titled person. Also, blue collar and hourly people are held to much more rigid hours and standards and then exempt wonder why there is resentment when they–higher paid and far more flexibility–can do such things such as WFH, set their own hours, and get higher pay while poor scrubs actually doing labor and on production lines get treated like dirt. Watch how people react if you say “I work full time at McDonalds” to “I am a manager at X office.” You can often read the sneer even though there is nothing wrong with either. Hedge fund mangers produce nothing but get a lot of money while people who make an actual item are seen as ‘lesser’.
    Not all people do this but society in the first world certainly is geared to regard those with titles as higher status and more worthy.

  63. JdS*

    Alison, I’m confused. How is it legal to charge PTO to exempt employees on the weeks they work less than 45 hours?

    1. TiffIf*

      That’s not what she said:

      If you have to work 45 hours one week, that’s just what’s expected of salaried workers. But if you work 36 hours the next week, you’re going to be charged four hours of PTO

      1. JdS*

        Sorry, I wasn’t super clear. I meant, how is it that a company can charge an exempt employee PTO for weeks that go under the “typical” or “expected” hours? So, if average is 40, and working 45 is fine and dandy, how is it that working 36 hours as an exempt employee would use up your PTO? (In her response she refers to it as “salaried/exempt” but I’m pretty sure when she says “salaried” in the section you quoted, she means salaried, exempt).

        1. RussianInTexas*

          That is exactly how.
          45 is more than 40, and as such perfectly OK, according to your employer.
          36 is under 40, and some companies will require you to use PTO for those 4 hours you didn’t work, even though if you are exempt. Because the salary is set for 40 hours worked for week, and over is fine and dandy, but under is a no go. It’s a one way street for many employer (not all, but many).
          If your salary was based on 80 hours per two weeks, this math would change.

        2. On a pale mouse*

          I knew a lot about exempt vs not before I started reading here, but I too was surprised to learn this. If you are exempt, they cannot reduce your pay if you work fewer hours, but they CAN require that you use your paid time off to receive pay for that time. I think it’s crappy to do that to exempt employees, especially if they often work extra hours in other weeks, but it’s legal.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            It’s very crappy, and not all companies will do this, of course. But they can.

          2. JdS*

            Thank you On a Pale Mouse! That what I was getting at, I had no idea that pulling from PTO for exempt was a thing/am still kind of in disbelief that a company could justify that as not being a total scam of a system for their exempt employees. I will definitely have this on my radar for my post-grad job search!

  64. AEK*

    This is really industry-dependent. In all the companies I’ve worked in (5) this is only an issue in those early management years. When you first move up from a more coordinator/admin type job the salaries are still pretty close and the trade-offs are real. Once you get into higher-paying roles (again depending on industry) it’s not an issue. All the hourly employees I work with make less than 26/hour. So even with overtime none of them are getting over 60,000 a year. I know that’s different in industries where hourly rates are higher or overtime is significant. But all of our exempt employees make more than 60,000 and have lots of flexibility. To stay nonexempt here would severely limit your earning and career growth potential in many industries.

    The CA laws that mandate that exempt employees must make at least 2x the minimum hourly wage (soon to be 15/hour) are good. There is much less incentive to make someone exempt too soon to save some $.

  65. Noncompliance Officer*

    It really depends on your your workplace’s culture. When I worked retail my boss at the time tried to talk me into getting on the Assistant Manager career path, which would entail being exempt. I asked him how much the salary would be, then asked him how much he worked per week (60+ hours!), and then did some quick math. He made a dollar less per hour than I did.

    I am salaried now, but I work in the public sector, and I have decent work life balance.

    I’ve also worked with a lot of low-income clients who were “Assistant Managers” or “Keyholders” and were salaried, but were not performing any managerial tasks. It was just a way to not pay them overtime.

  66. Lorac*

    Meanwhile I feel like I’m scamming my company by being salaried. I’ve probably put in 8 hours a work a week for the past year. Maybe less!

    1. Huh.*

      I mean, if your company is so dumb that they can’t realize how little work you’re doing, then they deserve it. I hope you’re not just letting other employees pick up the work that you’re supposed to be doing though; that really wouldn’t be cool.

  67. Governmint Condition*

    In government jobs, it often goes by salary grade, based on union agreements. Above a certain pay grade, you are automatically considered exempt. However, like Alison described, you still fill out time sheets and charge hours that you don’t work. You get nothing for the extra hours. Nor do you get the flexibility that other exempt workers get that Alison described. But since there’s no overtime budget, if you stay at the lower salary grade to remain overtime-eligible, don’t expect to pad your salary with much actual overtime work. (Some of which is paid in comp time if your scheduled week is 35 or 37.5 hours.)

  68. MissDisplaced*

    THIS IS AN EXCELLENT DISCUSSION. And it’s frankly one our government needs to have, because being exempt should not be a scam, nor should it mean you automatically work more than a 40 hour work week.

    A good company will expect in general the same 8 hour day/40 hour week the non-exempt workers have. Usually standard hours of 8-5, 9-5, etc. However, there may be weeks or days or busy seasons where you work more. You don’t get extra pay, but you’re also not dinged if you work a little less either. You get the same pay either way, and there is generally some flexibility to how you structure your work day, work hours and projects–plus exempt allows for things like travel or customer meetings where you really need that flexibility. Being exempt may also mean you are at a pay grade for a bonus structure tied to profit that the non-exempt employees may not receive. So technically, your extra efforts may be reflected in your bonus.

    Bad companies will take advantage by forcing workers to work 50, or even 60 hours a week on a regular basis and the company doesn’t have to pay anything for that labor. Whereas, if the worker is non-exempt they can send them home early and not have to pay.

    I’ve worked at some really bad places that take advantage! But I’ve also worked at places that were fair about it, and if you’ve been busy with more hours one week, or you work the weekend, you can come in later or leave earlier, etc., the next. My current company pays a pretty handsome bonus above my salary (like 10-12% in good years) for making your numbers or quotas. But this isn’t the case everywhere and I’ve seen many companies promise bonuses for the hard work, and then not follow through or blame things not in the control of the employees.

    Verdict: Not a scam, but many companies abuse the system.

    Also, I want to say: Teachers! I’m sure they are unfairly exempt but are expected to put in a lot of after-school time, and I doubt they ever get a bonus.

  69. Hmm*

    Wasn’t there some labor law about exempt employees that they would work 80 hours in a two week period, but weren’t meant to work more than that? So if one worked 50 hours one week, then in the same two week period the person should only then work 30 hours the next week? I thought I’d learned that in a labor law class and that having employees be exempt isn’t carte blanche to making them work unlimited hours? Or did I remember this incorrectly?

    1. Two Dog Night*

      I think you remember incorrectly. :-) There are companies who give their exempt employees comp time, but it’s not required. I definitely average 83-84 hours every two weeks.

    2. On a pale mouse*

      I think you might have remembered something backwards? For most US workers, the relevant period is a week, and you can’t have a non-exempt employee work 50 hours one week and make up for it by having them only work 30 the next. I mean, you can give them reduced hours the next week if you want, but you still have to pay overtime for the 50 hour week. I’m not positive, but I don’t think there are rules limiting total work time for exempt or non-exempt employees – just that the non-exempt ones have to be paid overtime when they go over 40 in a single work week. (Limitations do exist for certain fields like airline pilots, though I don’t know if that’s under the same law – the FLSA – or if it’s something like FAA regulations instead.) This probably varies by state – even if I’m right that the FLSA doesn’t limit hours, some states might.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        From the DOL website (because I’m the kind of nerd who can’t not look it up): “There is no limit on the number of hours employees 16 years or older may work in any workweek.”

  70. Bookworm*

    Agree that it can depend. For me at my current job, being salaried started out well enough: I still remember my then-director telling me during the interview that if we had to stay late then dinner and a ride home (Uber, taxi, etc.) as on them and what not.

    People did work beyond 40 hours but I had thought and hoped that would be more under control once we transitioned into a new organization and people were hired up. We went through that and have gone through attrition of people naturally moving on, genuine unhappiness with the organization, etc. My org now has us working weekend shifts with no guidance on how we enter that into our timesheet or how we take that time off. A co-worker of mine has left because he was tired of having worked more than 40 hour workweeks consistently for more than 1.5 years and was denied more staff to help shoulder the load.

    Grateful to be WFH, to have a stipend for “office” supplies/internet/phone, etc. but with these changes my career development froze about a year ago (staff departures + pandemic). I don’t think I’d want to go back to being hourly but being salaried isn’t all that cracked up to be, either.

  71. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

    Years back at my church job, I was brought on as salaried, but I still punched a timeclock, and was paid OT for the occasional few hours. It was the tiniest bit of prestige in my mind, and meant a great deal to me. One day on vacation, the bookkeeper took that from me… I had no warning. SHE was left as the sole non pastor to be salaried, and I think she did this so she could be queen bee. I was so mad. It was the kind of job that had no growth, nothing special, but I had that bit of prestige yanked away.

  72. Thomas Merton*

    There’s a zone where the payoff between losing OT and working more hours means you may initially be working longer for less when you move to exempt. It’s how long that zone lasts that would matter. At some point you hope to get raises so that your salary surpasses what would be possible to earn in a non-exempt role. Very few people are going to make six-figure incomes as non-exempt employees, so the pathway to getting that income involves navigating the zone where being exempt benefits your employer more than it might you. Not that the expectation to work stupidly long hours won’t go away as you earn more, depending on your employer.

  73. Elle by the sea*

    This is really new to me. I have always thought that being paid extra if you do overtime is of higher status. I have always been in jobs where I didn’t get paid more for working more (and where everyone does considerable overtime) and people talk to me like I’m loser when they get to know that.

    1. Kerplunk*

      It depends on your situation. I once worked for a small company that paid me a “monthly salary” so I could work as long as they could make me… even though my job was an entry-level office assistant. I’m pretty sure it was illegal, but at the time similar positions weren’t paying any better and I just wanted to be able to put something on my resume that wasn’t a retail or restaurant position.

  74. blink14*

    I’ve worked both hourly and salary, my current job is salaried. It really depends on where you work, what your goals are, and what the culture is. My hourly jobs were always set hours with no PTO, and the standard required lunch breaks. So if something came up and I missed a shift, I wasn’t paid. There was never an option for overtime at any of those jobs, so the hourly wage benefitted the employer more than the employee.

    My current job and my last job are both salaried. At my old job, the hours were standard, you couldn’t work overtime or skip a lunch break, and they were extremely stingy with PTO. To a ridiculous degree in which you couldn’t make up an hour if you had to miss an hour, you had to take a full day off for a short appointment, etc. The job requirements were administrative based and didn’t call for that.

    My current job is salaried with set hours, very similar time frame to my previous job, and an hour for lunch. Many people work through that hour, I do not. I also very rarely work more than my set hours for the week. People in higher positions often do, and even if I was being paid more, that loss of time isn’t worth it to me. I have excellent benefits, very generous PTO, and I can take it increments of 15 minutes if need be. I can also work late if I need to come in late or vice versa, and your time isn’t counted so closely in many jobs that if you work a little less one week and a little more the next, it’s not a problem.

  75. Bloopmaster*

    Makes sense to me, I would never happily work a salaried position that expected me to work more than ~40 hours a week. I’ve been lucky to only work for orgs that don’t expect more than 40 for salaried staff and have been relatively flexible with when those 40 are worked. There are some oddities, although nowhere near as aggravating as what OP described:
    -Currently I am salaried (paid the same each month regardless of actual (M-F) workdays in the month) but still must track and report my hours, which seems contradictory and pointless.
    -I can flex hours, BUT only across a single M-F week and only within a single pay period. So if there is a M-F work week all within the same period, I can work my 40 hours anytime during those 5 days. But if a pay period ends on a Monday, I have to work 8 hours that Monday or take PTO. It’s extremely annoying because (again) I get paid the exact same amount each month whether there 20 work days in a month or 23 work days in a month.

  76. Workerbee*

    We’re salaried and exempt at my org, and most of our people work early and late and on weekends to get things done. (This is largely because we don’t have enough people and have inefficient processes.) But there are unpleasant edicts such as if we need to take anywhere up to two hours off during a work day for a private appointment, you have to show that you have “made up the time” by working through lunch or the aforementioned early or late. I get that this may be considered a norm, but come on, we’re adults here, already working ridiculous hours.

    Any private appointment lasting more than two hours and you’re forced to take PTO with no option to make up the time.

    Folks will call in to meetings when they’re on PTO, or dial in while they’re still driving if they’re late because there’s a snow emergency (the office rarely, rarely closes and frowns on people working from home. A colleague spent a half hour digging herself out of her driveway and still came in; at no point did the boss tell her to just work from home that day), and if you say you’re drowning under the work piled on you, you just get told you’re doing great or to spend time you don’t have coming up with a proposal to address this, that will never be approved.

    I am finally at a point in my career where I’ve recognized that the work is still going to be there the next day, a large amount of it is pointless, and that companies have no compunction about working you to the bone if they can get away with it. So I take my full lunch, I get up during the day and away from my desk, and I do not answer emails or do work at nights or on weekends. And I have an online-facing job and the internet never sleeps. But it, too, will be there when I wake up.


    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, some jobs have this Never Ending River of Work that you will never be caught up on. The only thing you can do is work a reasonable 40-45 hour week and leave it until the next week. ‘Cause working 60 hours will get you nowhere but carried along by the current and drowning under the waterfall.

      And I mean, I sometimes don’t MIND working 60 hours IF (a big if) it really, really makes a difference to the bottom line and you have a clear sense of accomplishment when it’s done. And when it’s done, it’s really DONE.

  77. not neurotypical*

    The benefit comes if you are truly in charge of your work, happy with your base salary, and don’t want to deal with the hassle of tracking and reporting your time. It gives you the flexibility to work all-out on a project, without having to worry about costing the org overtime (a concern if you work at a non-profit whose work you genuinely support and really do want donor dollars to be spent as parsimoniously as possible), and then take is as easy as you want to after meeting that deadline or whatever. I can’t quantify it, but there’s something truly affirming –and very consistent with work-life balance — about being free to work whenever you want, being trusted to manage your own workload, and not have to answer for anything other than the quality of your end product. This is a big benefit in academic too: Whether you’re salaried or paid per course (presuming the rate is fair), you choose all of your non-classroom work hours. You work like mad at certain times of the term but then have other times to rest or focus on your writing.

    1. Lemony Snickett*

      Alternately, not all salaried employees are free to work whenever they want or trusted to manage their own workloads.

      I’m a senior level salaried employee and still subject to ever bit of micromanagement unpleasantness that the hourly are. Plus all of the political hoopla that I (aspbergers!) would absolutely do anything do avoid.

  78. RussianInTexas*

    This is really company dependent.
    At my last job I was hourly (non-exempt) for all 15 years I worked there. Yet I never had to do any timesheets (40 hours was presumed), had all kinds of flexibility, and really needed to use a PTO only if I had to be away from work for 4 hours or more. You would have to get any overtime approved, but I almost never had to do any overtime work.
    Now I am exempt, and I have to check in, out, and for lunch as well. My company absolutely requires you to work at least 40 hours, 9 to 5, or whatever your schedule is. You can take some time off for a dental appointment, for example, but you have to notify your manager.

  79. Environmental Compliance*

    I have worked both hourly & salary.

    When I was hourly (as gov’t), I was not *allowed* to work overtime. I had to clock out. Didn’t matter if the work was done. I was not allowed to go over 37.5 hours. However, my jobs were relatively seasonal in that during the warm (build) season, I had a LOT to do. I would get complaints (by contractors), which my boss(es) would tell me it was totally okay – my metrics were still far above average – but it was incredibly annoying? disruptive? to my personal work style and flow. I always felt I was perpetually behind. And then when it was the slow season, I was bored out of my gourd – but I couldn’t just… go home early. And there’s only so much I could do to work on getting things more streamlined, automated, better set up for the busy season.

    I’ve been salaried (private sector) for a while now and I really very much prefer it. I can flip my schedule around, I can work an extra 20 minutes if I’m in a good flow and really getting stuff done, or if it’s a slow day I can leave at 2. It’s pretty darn flexible. I don’t have to keep track of my exact minute of arrival/departure. Do I get overtime during the insanely busy weeks? Nope. But do I get docked at all if there’s a few summer days where it’s really nice out, I’ve got nothing pressing to do, and I leave early to go trail riding? Also nope. I will say I have a very understanding boss who could not give two craps less if I decide to WFH a day (or week), what exact time I get in/leave, and doesn’t let me dock my PTO unless it’s over 4 hours.

    1. Bostonian*

      I’ve had very similar experiences as yours. Having slow days in an hourly role where I lose money if I leave early sucks the life out of my soul.

      And I couldn’t take my time and “stretch out” the work, either, because most of my colleagues WANTED to leave early, but optics were such that they didn’t want to “leave anyone behind”, so they would literally take work from me to finish.

      I don’t miss those days at all!

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes! Mine was time sensitive work- I could not stretch it out, I’d end up delaying someone’s house being built. No one would have any work I could help them with, either.

        I did the best I could at improving forms, documents, doing extra trainings, doing community outreach, building links with other departments… but 1/2 the time at least my hands were tied and I had nothing to do. I left to keep my sanity.

  80. C Average*

    This is such a good conversation to be having.

    I think for a lot of people (or maybe just the people in my cohort, which is Gen X liberal arts majors), graduating to salaried status meant finally getting that elusive grown-up job. More importantly, it also meant getting a consistent paycheck.

    After years of retail work with fluctuating hours (and therefore paychecks) and project-based freelance side hustles, it was an absolute revelation to take home the same amount of money every two weeks. I cannot overstate what a consistent income did for my financial health and overall quality of life.

    Even when I made my way to a salaried corporate position where I worked inhuman hours and very clearly got the short end of the stick, I would have been very hesitant to convert to hourly if given the chance. The idea that hourly work = feast or famine existence is too deeply ingrained.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh it truly SUCKS to accept a job only to find out that when they said there was “occasional overtime” they really meant regular 60 hour work weeks. Been burned there myself friend. It can be really hard to suss out.

    2. Chilipepper*

      That is interesting. I have a full time, hourly job with benefits. Same paycheck even with overtime because it is a govt so they can pay for overtime with comp time.

      But maybe this kind of job is rare now?

    3. Spearmint*

      This is a good point, op is assuming an hourly job where you’re guaranteed 40 hours, but this isn’t always the case.

  81. agnes*

    God I am so glad to see an honest answer to this question. And pow, right between the eyes, this sentence……

    “We’ve convinced people there’s status to not getting paid more when they work more.”

  82. azvlr*

    I love that this question came up. I’ve been a salaried employee most of my working life, and I almost always put in more than 40 hours. I’ve never pushed back to say I can’t meet a deadline, because I feel like the deadlines are reasonable, but that I’m just a slowpoke. I have no way to measure my production against anyone else, so I’m always filled with doubt about that. How do I learn to reconcile that within myself?

  83. MB*

    IMO consulting is where salary gets really scammy. I’m required to bill AT LEAST 40 hours/week, and I make the same regardless while I make the company much more depending how much I work/bill. Somewhat offset by massive bonuses at year-end and stock ownership, but still.

  84. JohnQ*

    About 20 years ago I gave up an hourly union job that I truly enjoyed to become an exempt supervisor. I had gone after the promotion partially because I thought it would be a good chance to move forward in my career, but mainly because the other leading candidate for the job was someone I didn’t want to have as a boss. Due to the lost overtime I ended up taking a $5k pay cut my the year, the work was definitely less enjoyable, and it affected my friendships with my coworkers, but looking back I believe it was the right move. In the long run, it did end up putting me on a path to a much better income and more control over my work life.

  85. Admin 4 life*

    I’ve worked both sides and I’m currently US based and non exempt. My boss wants me to log 40 hours of work a week and I have 7 days to do it. So I have a lot of flexibility, I can work to make up for time away from my desk instead of using PTO, and I get time and a half for OT. Most of my salaried colleagues work 60 hours or more every week, which means my salary would have to be an additional $30k per year or I’m making less per hour. My personal time is precious to me and I would struggle with giving up weekends and evenings.

    And yes, the annual income would be a significant increase but I put the price on my weekend time to be significantly higher than what I get paid hourly at the moment.

    1. Spearmint*

      Honestly? Just assume whatever you get done in 40 hours just is what you could have reasonably gotten done, and talk your coworkers and boss about it that way as well, even if you have internal doubts.

      1. Admin 4 life*

        Unfortunately it’s the nature of the job/company. They’re very clear that the salaried positions can amount to 60 hour weeks because when things break, we can’t wait until Monday to fix it. I work for a global tech company and when we have a bad day, potentially millions of other people are affected too.

        In my admin role, I’m not responsible for fixing anything so my weekends are all mine 99% of the time.

  86. Disenchanted w Capitalism*

    The threshold of 36K seems absolutely bananas to me. TBF I live in a very high cost of living area but what jobs are specialized/”high level” and making 36K?

    1. Lurker*

      Some states have higher minimum salary thresh holds. New York, for example, requires exempt positions to be paid at least $1,125 per week ($58,500 annually) in addition to passing the duties test. You could be exempt from the responsibility side of things, but if you don’t make at least $1,125 per week your position must be classified as non-exempt (with a few exceptions).

  87. Two Dog Night*

    I’ve been exempt my whole career–yay computer programming–and when I first started, I was terribly jealous of everyone I knew who got paid overtime. Luckily, I’ve always had reasonably flexible jobs, and now I’m at a point where I rarely work more than 42-43 hours a week, so I’m happy with my situation. I don’t think being exempt is always a scam, but I think it’s a poor practice to apply it to positions that don’t have the leverage to push back when they have to. I’ve always been able to walk away from bad situations and come out OK, but not everyone has that luxury.

  88. D3*

    Reminds me of a few years back when a family member’s boss announced to all the workers in the shop “Congratulations! You’re all exempt and salaried now! Whatever your base hourly rate was on Jan 1 of this year we will multiply it by 2080 and that will be your salary!” and later in the same meeting announced mandatory Saturday overtime 2X a month indefinitely.

    They were banking on people feeling proud and valued just be virtue of being salaried and also on increased profits by using lots of extra unpaid labor on the weekends.

    It didn’t go over well. The combination of the loss of overtime pay, combined with regular full days of mandatory overtime on the weekends, and rolling back all raises given that year all added up to about 80% of the company immediately job searching and 10% walking out that day. They went back to hourly and restored raises about 3 weeks later. Still lost a lot of people over it.

    1. Jake*

      I think this highlights my biggest issue with exempt employees. Part of the duties clause should contain language that the employer cannot dictate specific hours of work for exempt employees. This would eliminate a lot of this type of abuse of the system.

      This would mean that A LOT of currently exempt employees are not longer eligible to be exempt, but I think it would align with the original intention of the system a lot better than the current system.

  89. Bostonian*

    I’d say there’s pros and cons on both sides. When I worked hourly/non-exempt, we literally punched a time card, and God forbid you take 17 minutes instead of 15 for a break, or want to use the restroom outside of one of those breaks.
    I’d like to come and go as I please (within reason), thank you.

    1. Kerplunk*

      You need to talk to more self-proclaimed socialists. They’ve been saying things that are true and common sense but are regularly laughed at or dismissed.

      1. Batgirl*

        I live in Liverpool. I’d have to walk a long way to find someone who isn’t a self proclaimed socialist!

  90. Can Man*

    I’ve never worked an exempt position, but I’ve occasionally fantasized about it because of how it could ease my anxieties if done well. In school I was always one of the last people to finish a test, and that has carried over into the work world. That, combined with my tendency to burn out easier from working at a frantic (to me) pace to get things done before the end of the day (especially if overtime needs to be approved) than to just work a little longer or at an unusual hour means that non-exempt work has been hard for me. My current non-exempt (but salaried) position is for a team that seems to appreciate how I work enough to find my speed tradeoff worth it, but I still feel bad when I veer into overtime just because going any faster would either be impossible for how I work or make me freak out. I’ll admit that therapy would probably be as useful a tool as a well-implemented exempt job, but it still sounds nice in my head.

  91. Lemon, it's Wednesday*

    I am an exempt supervisor in biotech manufacturing. I am expected to be here on time like the techs that report to me, and I have to work overtime with them on nights and weekends even though I do not get paid for it. I work roughly 50-60 hours a week. Sure, my salary is higher than their base pay but when you factor in the overtime they make more than me.
    It really depends on the industry and what you’re doing. I can’t just pop out for errands whenever, I’m required to be on site and available to the team.

  92. Des*

    Nah, try not to work for a bad employer that screws over salaried employees. “Should I get paid fairly for my hours or be screwed over” is not a real question.

  93. Ms Jackie*

    I am a manager in a white collar job and routinely work 45 -60 hours a week. I get paid very well.

    on the plus side, i am getting WLS and have a whole slew of appts beforehand. When o told my boss and mentioned making up the hours, he shut it down and said as long as im caught up, i can just use flex time.

    It gives me a lot of flexibility which i prefer a lot more than overtime

  94. AnotherLibrarian*

    I have never worked an hourly job where overtime was paid. It was always- you leave at your contracted 38.5 and you do not work overtime. Ever. They’d have paid it, but you were never authorized. So, it’s been interesting to have a partner who gets overtime and see how that plays into his career choices. I enjoy the flexibility of being exempt, but I have also seen it abused.

  95. Throwaway Throwback*

    Total scam. I am sick of having to work unpaid overtime and still be nickle-and-dimed and have my sick leave and PTO hit every time I need to go to the doctor or leave an hour early. It only benefits the employer.

  96. hola my peeps*

    I think there’s a big difference between being exempt at 40k a year vs at a much higher income. I do pretty well and have no problem working over 40 hours. If I were making much less, screw that, I’m cutting out at the end of my 8 hour shift.

    I’m lucky in that I’m not micromanaged. I do my work, am trusted to use leave when it’s appropriate to do so, and never feel pressured to work longer than I feel I need to for my job to be done well. I don’t miss my time clock days!

    1. NYC Teacher*

      Teacher burnout in my district is high, and the problems outlined here are exactly why.

      It is physically impossible to finish my planning and grading during normal work hours, so I basically work unpaid overtime every week. If wasn’t exempt, I would definitely either have less responsibilities or be paid for more hours of work.

      I can’t imagine how bad the discrepancy would be if I lived in a state with weaker unions; I don’t think I could do it.

      1. Boof*

        I gotta say though, my husband was a teacher (Still is but more part time) and seemed like he had All The Breaks (especially when I was in medical residency and had 2 weeks vacation and generally only 1 day off a week / 80 hr work weeks and he had the whole summer off! For the same salary and better benefits!) – but I know medical residency is a weird scenario where you work your @#$@# off for the relatively assured promise of a much higher salary latter.

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      Very valid–if you have some extra hours and aren’t getting paid overtime then you need to be making enough so that your hourly wage did not become unreasonable.

  97. Kerplunk*

    Yeah, I was assuming the benefit of being exempt was I could work 4 hours a day and still receive the same amount on my paycheck. I was very alarmed when a friend told me that’s not how it works.

    I’m still an hourly contractor at this time, which I don’t like mainly because insurance and tax returns. Not to mention the employer’s insistence at jotting down what I’ve accomplished every hour, which can result in awkward phrases. When I apply for a job that asks for expected salary, I’ve been jacking up the number to include possible overtime hours. Probably why I haven’t received any calls.

  98. NYC Teacher*

    Ahh, I don’t know why this nested under your comment hola my peeps. Sorry, my phone hates proper formatting.

  99. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

    This is a fascinating discussion because it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t make more as an exempt employee. I haven’t had to choose because all my jobs since I left college have been exempt – clerical work, then computer programming and tech writing.
    I’ve known people who preferred to work on commission rather than salaried because they could make so much more, and heard of people not being allowed to work on commission because they would cost the company so much more.

  100. A Genuine Scientician*

    One of the issues, though, is part of what Alison refers to here — whether or not your position is exempt depends on federal classification, rather than your employer.

    This does cause problems.

    In the US, our laws on what qualifies you as exempt explicitly includes a range of professions. Some of them are often quite highly paid; law for example, or medicine. Others are markedly less so. I suspect, at least prior to this year, many people have little idea just how many hour virtually any teacher would be paid overtime if they were not all classified as exempt.

    I enjoy the flexibility of my hours in my job teaching at a university; as long as I am there for my classes, office hours, and regular meetings, I have free reign for whatever other hours I work as long as the job gets done. And most of the benefits are legitimately quite good; better health insurance at lower cost than almost any other type of employer, for example, and that tier of benefits is solely available to the exempt workers here. I also do have a yearly contract, which is otherwise rare in the US. But even pre-pandemic I was putting in 55 hours / week, and it’s notably higher with everything being online. It is laughable to think that this job could be done in 40 hours / week; exactly no one in my unit puts in less than 50 hours / week, including the people with 25+ years of experience. I accrue literally no official PTO. There are days when the university is not in session and so I’m not officially expected to work during them, but I do not formally earn any time off whatsoever during the academic terms, so if I ever want to not be there on a class day — including to, for example, present my work at a conference that my unit is paying me to attend — I need to trade favors with other faculty for them to cover my classes that day, most likely in exchange for me covering theirs at another point. Some of these things can be slightly better in different states; my brother was also college faculty in a different state, and he actually did accrue sick leave, but that’s fairly rare.

    And if I were to leave the university? The lack of overtime would be true anywhere else too, as anyone whose primary job falls under the categories of teaching or scientist is classified as exempt as long as they earn the salary threshold. There is an extent to which being exempt is a scam, but it’s not all on the employers; some of it is on the federal rules too.

  101. HailRobonia*

    I was totally scammed when I got my promotion from hourly to salaried. Due to the loss of overtime pay I lost a couple thousand/year. If only I knew about AaM back then I would have negotiated for higher pay.

    Meanwhile my bosses insist that salaried = 100% effort = 40hours/week not counting breaks. I really gotta get out of this place.

  102. singlemaltgirl*

    i’m currently the most senior mgmt role in my org and usually that position is salaried. but i’m in canada so i don’t know if that effects things significantly. how people talk about exempt and non exempt seems similar to me. anyway, i’ve been hourly and hated it. now i have been salaried at places that did exactly what alison mentioned – any over time was just part of the gig but any ‘under time’ or time i wanted to take off to pick up my kid from school or something was like i was asking for the moon. but for most orgs i’ve led, i like being mostly my own boss and having lots of flexibility to deal with family commitments and not be tied to a clock/clocking in.

    that being said, i would never ‘leave work at home’. it’s not how i’m built. i never shut off and i’m always strategizing, planning, figuring out how to handle things, reflecting on how i could do things better, etc. i’d rather be compensated for the ‘type of worker i am’ that try to be a worker that’s hourly and finds benefit and comfort in leaving work at work.

    this is part of the reason i jumped to the non profit sector. i figured if i worked like a maniac, i’d rather do it for a cause i was passionate about rather than someone else’s bottomline.

  103. Miriam*

    I wish I were exempt. Where I work the exempt folks really don’t end up working longer hours, but they earn almost twice the vacation time. I could desperately use more PTO. It would be life changing for me to get that benefit they get.

    I’m also the kind of person who is going to worry about work stuff, and at least check in on her email and write to-do lists or jot notes on projects on her off time. I actually think my work life balance would be better being exempt at my current employer because I find it relieves anxiety I have about projects to just sit down and get a few things done at odd hours at home as I think of them, so they’re not weighing on me overnight or over the weekend. I’d probably do more at those odd hours if it wouldn’t screw up my regular working hours. I’m not allowed overtime and we have been told to not even check our email off the clock because we’re not working. Both out of kindness and because employers can get in trouble if us non exempt folks do stuff like that. It’s work without pay.

    I know my situation is odd because my employer is actually good about not working exempt people to the bone. I also know I won’t get to be exempt in my current potion, and don’t see a way to advance right now to a position that is exempt.

    I had hoped that they would change things with so many people working from home. We will eventually all go back but it’s now been a year, and it still feels absurd to be electronically clocking in and out when they trust us enough to get our work done from a distance. So it’s not about being there and I have even more flexibility about my hours. But only if I clock in and out like some cog. Hate that so much.

  104. Dr Rat*

    I’ve been both exempt and hourly and this discussion is giving me flashbacks to my exempt life, or shall we say “life.” I think it was a Dilbert cartoon where someone explains to an exempt employee who wants to leave early because all his work is done that “exempt” means “exempt from having a life.”

    Flashback #1: Years ago, I had my first exempt job. At first I was so proud when my mother overheard me calling and telling my secretary that I was taking Mom to the airport and wouldn’t be in until 10, and Mom said, “I never had a job where I could say I wouldn’t be in until a certain time. I always had to ask.” Tah-dah! Mom is impressed, so I made it! Except the job ate me alive. I had no personal life. I was a Big Fish in a Little Pond and not only was I exempt, I was on call 24/7 for eight years. Pages/calls in the middle of the night. While on vacation. When I had family in town. While on hot dates. Skipped lunches because everything was an emergency. My whole life revolved around work, all the time, until I burned out.

    Flashback #2: I am working another exempt job. I never call in sick, but this day, I am vomiting and have uncontrollable diarrhea. I call in sick and my manager ARGUES WITH ME because we have very important people flying in from Japan and they need me there. I spend 20 minutes convincing my boss that these nice Japanese people are unlikely to be impressed by me coming in covered with poop and then vomiting on them.

    Flashback #3: The same exempt job. Someone else in another department just returned from her three week vacation. I ask my manager to sign off on my form requesting one week of vacation, and he looks at me like I just stuffed a live weasel down his pants. He literally shrieked, in a horrified voice, “A WHOLE WEEK?!?”

    Honestly, I was a little ashamed on some level to go “back” to an hourly job, and now you can’t pry me away. In my company, if you are hourly, once your vacation time is approved, it’s approved. The headquarters burned down that week? So sorry, tell me all about it when I get back from Aruba. But my poor exempt manager had a vacation ruined recently when the company cancelled it SAME DAY for an “emergency.” Likewise, I have a set schedule which includes no nights, no weekends. Managers? They have set schedules but sometimes have to cover nights and weekends. One of the weirdest things they do to management is this: if you are hourly, and your vacation time is approved, it’s a done deal. If you are exempt, your vacation time is approved, but they will randomly schedule you for a shift in the middle of your vacation! And then you have to beg someone else to cover your shift, or your vacation just ended early. So at my company, exempt means longer hours, probably a lower hourly wage, and they treat you worse, until you hit upper management.

    I love, love, love walking out of my home office and knowing that I won’t get a text, call, page, or email when I’m off. Sure, I have to use PTO if I want to take a long lunch or go to a doctor’s appointment, but when I get 24 days (192 hours) of PTO and 8 holidays, PTO is not exactly in short supply. (I could also make up the time by coming in late, staying late, working part of Saturday, but come on – when you literally get a day off for every 11 days you work, why bother?) Hourly employees at my company still get great benefits – they match your 401(k) up to 6%, they will pay $125 a month towards student loans, the company wellness program is designed to be worker friendly regardless of health status and shaves $600 a year off your health insurance, they put $500 in your HSA at the beginning of the year. Many benefits that I did not have as an exempt employee elsewhere.

    I’ve had relatives in fields where the expectations for exempt workers border on the insane, or perhaps cross that border. One relative, early in his career in aerospace, worked 362 days of the 365 days in one year. Yes, that’s right: he took 3 days off, the entire year. But that’s a field where in some companies, the only question you have when you see the ambulance in the parking lot – AGAIN – is who either 1) had a heart attack at their desk or 2) blew their brains out in the parking lot. Fantastic pay – if you survive until retirement, and don’t get laid off when your company doesn’t get a contract.

    Expectations are tremendously different by company and even by department, as someone pointed out. But at this point, I am thrilled to be the Medium Fish in the Enormous Pond, and am thrilled to be working hourly.

  105. A Collingwood*

    I would also consider how the company pays bonuses. Exempt employees in my companies have significantly higher annual bonuses than hourly employees. I moved from hourly to exempt two years ago and was absolutely shocked at the difference in the annual bonus. The flexibility of being exempt is great, but the bonus is incredible.

  106. W&H Lady*

    As a reminder… If the amount of hours you’re working as an exempt salaried employee causes your overall wage to fall below the federal, state, or municipality hourly minimum wage (whichever is the highest), your employer may be violating the law. (Obviously many exempt positions are well paid enough that it’s not an issue, but not always, and there are employers who foster such a ridiculous culture of overwork, that it becomes a problem).

    (I too think exempt status is *often* a scam, but I prefer not having to work nights/weekends and think I deserve to be paid premium for any hours that my work life intrudes upon my personal life).

    Signed, A State Wage & Hour Lady

  107. Cheesehead*

    A long time ago, I worked at a dysfunctional small company. Run by a husband and wife team, they had the attitude that we were indentured servants and we should be eternally grateful to them for giving us jobs. We were salaried, but all of a sudden they installed a time clock and we had to punch in and out for the day and for lunches. In one memorable company wide meeting when too many people were apparently taking lunches that were 2 minutes too long, the owner ranted that he didn’t care if we worked 12 hours one day, if we took a long lunch the next day we would be docked. This was the mid 90s all before everything including the kitchen sink could be found online, so though I didn’t know it for sure, I highly suspected that his interpretation of exempt/non-exempt was…wrong. He couldn’t interpret the law to only benefit him and his company. I didn’t last long with that employer but in the years since then, I’ve learned to be grateful for that!

  108. Squirrely*

    I work in New York State, and given salary requirements, I was exempt for one year, non-exempt for a year (which I hated), and the promoted to be exempt again.

    I work in a direct-service-y, nonprofit role, and being non-exempt was super tough for me because I struggled with how to handle texts from students (clients) or families when I was “off.” My work truly is one where there is a job that needs to get done, and so having to ask for permission in order to do certain parts essential to my job made me resentful. Especially because as the end of the day, I “owned” the job I was doing. Saying “I worked my hours” would not have been good enough because I couldn’t push my work to my supervisor, and we were dealing with something that was frequently time-sensitive (college admissions).

    In my opinion, that shift between “I only need to work for X hours a week and if I miss a deadline it’s somebody else’s responsibility,” and “I could only work X hours, but I’ll have to make it up myself” is key. For me, being exempt is about being okay that the responsibilities I have have evolved such that work regularly takes up real estate in my head, and it’s supposed to.

  109. Hapax Legomenon*

    Working as an exempt employee when I absolutely should be hourly is the worst of both worlds. The federal government carved out an exception where they can classify anyone as exempt and I have made less than $10 an hour in childcare and rewarded with “comp time” when all I wanted to do was go home on time…especially because that “comp time” expires eventually and we’re perpetually understaffed, so I could wind up never getting compensated at all for involuntary overtime. That’s only one of many small ways being classified as exempt and making less than $20k a year is terrible.

  110. Varthema*

    I wonder if LW works in retail to any extent, because when I did that was absolutely the case, especially if you counted all the time when I might get called at home because there was something happening at work (which was 8:30 am – 11:30 pm every day of the week). And it was worse for the restaurants, since the managers didn’t get tipped.

    Oddly enough, my most recent job is sort of the reverse for that. Not sure if I can explain without outing the industry but I don’t mind – I teach (taught until the pandemic struck) English as a foreign language at one of the more upscale private language schools based in major Anglophone cities (London, NYC, Miami, Toronto…) so our students were adults paying a pretty sizable sum to come to have an English-learning experience in a cool place. Expectations were relatively high, we were expected to plan lessons that both had a sensible progression from one to the other day to day (but not week to week, rolling enrollment meant your class had new arrivals and leavers practically every week), conformed to their pretty specific curriculum but were also crafted from scratch since our coursebook only covered about 40% of the expected material for the week, upload these lessons and materials to the platform, track our learners’ progress on the platform, etc. Not to mention marking writing assignments. It was the kind of place where we had mandatory minimum CPD hours, were encouraged to go to conferences, both internal company ones and external industry ones, and even present at them. In a way, I loved it because all of this made a better product for our students/clients that I could be proud of, and it was more challenging/rewarding/engaging than the type of place where you just sleepwalk through the coursebook.

    But we were paid hourly. For contact hours only, so from the minute we set foot into the classroom to the minute the students left the classroom. All of that time we spent planning, uploading, creating materials, marking exams/assignments were considered “included in your hourly rate”, whether you did bare minimum prep or whether you actually did your job. (And the hourly rate was about $20-$24/hr for 15-25 contact hours a week.) Not to mention all of the emotional energy we spent outside the classroom thinking about our learners, talking about them, conferring with colleagues about handling tricky situations. If there ever were a job that BEGGED to be salaried/exempt, it was that one. It would have made SO much more sense to have us just come to work 9 to 5 and also assign us other responsibilities to make the company run more smoothly (they also tended to scrimp on admin so our few admin staff were always run off their feet and a lot of stuff just never got done). Unfortunately the pay and hours were industry standard so even though we pushed back and even unionized we never did make any headway on that.

    I loved it in a lot of ways, but now with some time and distance (thanks pandemic) I am beginning to realize what a crap deal it was. My time is worth more than that.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I think that would be illegal in the US. “Planning, uploading, creating materials, marking exams/assignments” is work and hourly employees must be paid for it. That’s why teachers in the US are nearly all considered exempt from OT and salaried. Doesn’t matter how much outside of the classroom work they do, their salary is unchanged each week/month.

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        Correct. It’s teaching. If your job is classified as teaching, you are automatically exempt if you meet the income threshold.

        1. Varthema*

          Interesting when the US has an extra worker protection that we don’t! Generally it’d be the other way around. I’ve worked for the same company in the US and in my current company and the US branches did in fact pay prep time at a lower rate…there was a cap on how much you could claim (1/3 of your teaching hours), but at least it did allow for us to make a case to our manager when we had a particularly sticky situation.

  111. Sawbonz, MD*

    Oh geez, I WISH I were hourly! I’m in a salaried position and I make approximately $16.00 per hour.

  112. flk*

    I would add that even within a business or organization you can have differences in how salaried benefits are used. I work in a location where my boss and I are the only salaried employees and all others are hourly. My boss takes full advantage of being salaried, to the point of abusing the perks. Leaving early very frequently, working a couple hours and then taking off for the day, etc. I on the other hand am expected to make the sacrifices associated with being salaried, shorter/no lunch, staying after closing if something is going wrong, etc. If I were to say I was leaving to go shopping (yes, boss does this) and everyone else can take up the slack it would not be tolerated. I am also jealous many times of my hourly co-workers!

  113. A Lined Noteboook*

    I’ve been at my job for almost 4 years. I got it a few month after finishing college and its my first professional job. Before that I worked in college for the university and at a county club part-time between college and real job. My current job is exempt and salaried, the others were hourly. I work for a non-profit related to STEM now but’s not a dinky operation. Personally, I like not being hourly. I really value the flexibility, my hour lunch built into my day and I’ve never had an issue with work-life balance. I typically choose to work 8am-4pm and there’s only been a few times that I ended up working later. Not getting overtime kind of sucks, but there is something nice about if I work 8am-6pm one day I get a free 2 hours to take in a reasonable amount of time (comp time).
    I could see how this could be massively unhealthy, but my workplace is actually pretty good with not expecting being on-call all the time. There was a boss when I started who kept texting questions and sending paragraphs to one his direct reports on the weekends, but our manager (who makes sure everything goes smoothly as a whole while the bosses are more directly responsible for their projects and direct reports working on them) kept telling him to cut that out.
    During the pandemic when we were working from home I made out well since I wasn’t working as full steam but kept all my pay and benefits, as did everyone else.
    I really like my set-up, but I see how it could be exploited and just not for everyone. For example, in my job you need to be a self-starter and know how to manage your time since you’re not tied to the clock, but have things that need to get done. Some people need the rigidity of clocking in at 9am, clocking in and out for a half-hour lunch and then out again at 5pm.

  114. dedicated1776*

    Background: I am a professional who has been exempt since her first job out of college and is now a manager. Because of the exempt/non-exempt classifications having been in place for so long, companies have been incentivized to design exempt jobs that require more than 40 hours every week. Reduces head count. In my career, I think I have had two roles that could be done in 40 hours or less on a consistent basis (out of seven). Not a horrible track record, but not great. I believe that we would see significant scope changes in existing jobs if the government required overtime pay for previously exempt employees, especially in back office functions like accounting/finance (me) and HR.

    The big advantage to becoming exempt is the higher level work, if that’s something you’re interested in. I am able to exercise a great deal of judgment in how I do things and direct my team daily, as well as tackle harder projects than if I were in a non-exempt role. But that isn’t for everyone! We need to stop telling people that their worth as a person is measured by the status of their job. Just do your best at whatever it is that you do. I’d rather be married to a hard-working, honest garbage man than a slimy executive any day of the week.

  115. MansplainerHater*

    I work salaried AND we have to track billable time AND I was promoted and can no longer bill OT. They say it will come back to me in my bonus, but so far in 2021 post-promotion I have been asked to donate $ “now that you have that promotion, act like it” and have worked at least 50 hours every week. Oh, and seem PTO deal with regards to working less than 40 hours. But wait! There’s more! Our accounting system reduces billable time based on the total hours worked. Worked 40 billable hours, and 4 on a proposal? You didn’t get paid the OT AND you’re now less-billable and you get a nasty-gram from the bosses.

    Here’s why anyone continues to work here: the bonuses can be as much as 100% of your base salary, or more. Last year, my bonus was 60% of my base. So I’ll ask you all: is it worth it??

  116. EngineerMom*

    I worked in a job that was non-exempt, but with extremely structured hours (like, if you clocked in more than 5 minutes late, you were penalized). Then I got promoted into a salaried/exempt position – that still had extremely structured hours. I was required to clock in/out, including for lunch breaks. I was required to take sick time (which was very minimal) if I had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment – I couldn’t just make the time up by coming in early that morning or the next day or something.

    It was so frustrating. The advantage of being exempt should be more flexibility. This company did NOT handle exempt positions well at all because the majority of their staff was non-exempt, and they were so focused on making it all look fair they were really screwing over the salaried/exempt folks. Most of the exempt folks had worked there for years or even decades, and truly had no clue how messed up it was to require professional folks to clock in/out like that. Yes, I needed to be at my desk during “normal business hours” in case customers called, but the occasional early afternoon to go do a school thing with my kids or take care of a medical appointment should not have been the big deal they made it out to be.

    They also did not allow anyone to work from home. Ever. So if I had a sick kid, either my husband (who could work from home) was on duty, or I had to take a sick day myself (from a “bank” that only allowed 5 sick days per year). 90% of my job could have easily been done from home with a work laptop – they just didn’t have enough confidence in the person who did their IT work (he wasn’t a formal IT guy, just someone who had learned on the job to maintain their computer systems in addition to his regular job) that they could secure the computer and the connection to their online systems sufficiently for me to work from home if needed.

    Needless to say, they didn’t handle the pandemic very well. Fortunately, I was long gone by then.

  117. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments on this one and found them very educational. I’m in my early 30s and am coming up on my one year in my first exempt/salaried position. Coming from 10-ish years of hourly positions it was a HUGE relief to not have to punch a time clock or worry about texting someone if I was going to be coming back from lunch 5 minutes late. Frankly, I’m still getting used to my paycheck being the exact same amount each pay period. It’s made budgeting a lot easier though. While I miss OT, I just have to remind myself that the reason I left my last hourly position was that I looked at my W-2 and calculated out what I was supposed to be making based on the hourly wage x 40 hours x 52 weeks formula. Then compared that to what I was actually making on my W-2 and figuring out that I was working what amounted to a hell of a lot of OT for not a huge difference. Armed with my AAM knowledge I got myself an exempt position that’s salary is what I was making at OldJob with all the OT and I’m averaging about 35-38 hours a week of work. It’s not the best job, but it’s been booming business during the pandemic and I’ll probably stay another year before moving on.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      I totally forgot to include the part I wanted to comment about in the first place. After the huge winter storm here in Texas, I felt immensely grateful to have been exempt/salaried because it meant that I got my full paycheck that next week even though I was only able to work for like 4 hours that entire week due to lack of electricity & internet. Even though my office closed the office & shut down the server for 4 days the non-exempt people were expected to either use PTO to cover the hours they weren’t working or take them unpaid. Our poor receptionist was without water in her apartment for 13 days and was out an entire week’s pay due to being so new and without PTO.

  118. JelloStapler*

    Yup, I was just telling someone it’s always “you can work more but once you ask work less to balance, there’s pushback.

  119. H*

    It is a HUGE scam where I used to work. They had us clock in and out… even those of us with exempt with salray because the org had tons of people who were nonexempt and hourly as well ANDDDDD they expected you there 8.5 hours a day or 42.5 hours a week because they assumed everyone was taking a 30 minute lunch. they actually called a coworker of mine who had only clocked in for 39 hours one week. This is how you make employees hate their workplace and their management.

  120. designbot*

    One thing to consider is that the bottom rung of exempt is often the worst place to be, but if you never work your way through it you won’t get to the next step and the next step, where your salary goes up higher and higher and it works out for the better. So one thing I’d factor in is the future growth potential.

  121. MCMonkeybean*

    I think in general, if salaried people at your company don’t get lunches or breaks then that is an argument against working at your company and not against the concept of exempt salaried employment. There are certainly lots of places that take advantage of the exempt category, but at my job it very much means they trust us to manage our own time. It means I just came out of busy season working some crazy hours but also that I took two hours to go to the doctor this morning and then came back and took an hour for lunch and no one cares. Personally, I would always prefer to be exempt because otherwise I would have to keep track of my time and I really hate doing that. I have ADHD so it is not uncommon for me to be extremely unproductive for a few hours in the morning and then make up for that later. I don’t want anyone to have to keep track of how many hours I am working beyond my bosses occasionally checking in to make sure I have a reasonable workload which they are pretty good at doing.

  122. Oaktree*

    It depends (almost) entirely on company culture, and differs between countries. I’m Canadian and a salaried employee. I know we don’t have anything called “exempt” here, though I’m not sure if there is an equivalent under the law. I work 9-5, Monday to Friday with a one-hour lunch period each day, and while there is an understanding I occasionally have to stay past my scheduled hours or come in earlier, or skip lunch if things are particularly busy, I am pretty strict about not being available after the end of my day, or on weekends, and my boss supports this ethic for our team. I’m eligible for overtime (though this requires me to work more than 40 hours in a week, which has literally never happened).

  123. AnonPi*

    Yeah I just turned down an exempt job (within my company, though different department) because they wouldn’t offer a pay increase. Their reason, because the pay range was the same for my current job and new job (even though they are different classifications and bands). I was stunned. I explained I had no reason to take a job that requires me to periodically work evenings and weekends in addition to the required 40 hours, and loose half my sick time (because their thinking is by having flexibility you can just make it up and don’t need as much sick time), if I wasn’t getting paid more. Not even counting that the work level was way more than what I do now. I was told no ifs ands or buts that they would consider even discussing a pay increase and take it or leave it. So left it. Now I know to only look at exempt jobs that start at a higher pay range than I’m currently in, but even then I don’t know they wouldn’t pull the same crap next time with some new justification.

  124. Elliott*

    Though I wouldn’t mind having the flexibility that being non-exempt can bring, I really like being salaried non-exempt. I feel like it helps maintain boundaries. There’s no pressure to start early or stay late. I find that having an hour break every day is really nice. And I don’t really mind using PTO for doctor’s appointments for the most part because I like knowing that I’m totally off the clock.

  125. NewYork*

    I think many times, the highest link on the hourly scale pays better than the lowest link on the salary scale, but there is limited advancement on the hourly scale. People have to consider the likelihood of advancement. Where I work, most people do advance

  126. nozenfordaddy*

    I think some of this will depend on the company. I’m salaried/exempt and my company still anticipates that I should get two 15 minute breaks and a half hour (though most take an hour) lunch each day. I don’t always manage it there are absolutely days (like yesterday) where I eat at my desk and run to the bathroom between meetings. But most days it works out so I get at least a lunch break (admittedly I’m a little militant about leaving my desk if humanly possible). No one cares if I come in 15 minutes late (though I’m the first one in the office when we are actually IN the office so no one would notice) or leave a little early (as I plan to do today to go pick up my new glasses before the office closes).

    Since most of our work is billable we all have an hourly rate based on our base salary, as such we get OT paid at that rate for any time over 40 hours we put in our timesheets. It’s not time and a half, and I’ll admit I don’t put all my OT in my timesheet I use judgement on what is ‘work’ and what is just a consequence of my job but we do get paid for it. (Consequence of my job vs ‘work’ would be something like going to dinner with clients after a conference, or getting home a little later than usual after driving back from a job site vs coming into the office on my day off to write a report or attend a meeting).

  127. A salaried person*

    Of course, the other reason people prefer salaried jobs over hourly is simply because often they do pay more, even without the overtime.

    In some more highly paid careers, hourly jobs just don’t exist. So it isn’t really like those people are “choosing” salaried, just that all the jobs in that career are salaried/exempt.

    So if you became experienced in your position and picked up new skills and were eligible for one of these higher level jobs that doesn’t pay overtime but is indeed much higher compensation than your current role, that’s a major reason.

    If you’re more or less going to be doing a similar job for similar pay as you do now, but are just exempt now, and effectively making less because of the lack of overtime – well then yeah, I agree it doesn’t make sense to switch.

  128. Peanut*

    I moved from non-exempt to exempt and saw my quality of work-life balance go down the drain. Mainly because I worked on call most nights on my own. So in addition to working 7:30-5:00 (no breaks either unless I really forced it because I was also the only back-up on the phones), I could easily be working 7:30am – 11:00pm day after day. The only saving bit was my weekends were more or less my own but it was hard to ‘unplug’ sometimes after working so much. I ended up getting burnt out after a year (it didn’t help too there were vacancies in my company at the time so I was doing my old job in addition to my new management position). I think for some roles it does help having that flexibility in hours and the ability to take a lunch whenever. I would say my experience was more a result of my job just being too much for one person to feasibly handle long-term. I’ve since moved on to a non-exempt job and while I took a 10% pay cut, I do enjoy having my evenings and lunch hour back.

  129. Joe*

    From my experience, some companies pay hourly work less as compared to what they pay salaried workers. So grabbing the salary deal seems a better option.

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