my team keeps working unauthorized overtime

A reader writes:

I oversee a team of employees who used to be my peers. I understand this can be a hard transition, but it’s been over a year and the staff are still having a hard time with this. That is not the question but I feel it’s relevant. The bigger issue is the overtime. We strongly discourages overtime for budget reasons, and any overtime has to be approved before it is taken. However, if it’s worked anyway, legally it has to be paid and a few employees are taking advantage of this and not getting their overtime approved in advance, even though we’ve had the discussion several times. How do I get them to follow this policy?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How should I tell job applicants about our office’s drinking culture?
  • I’m resigning — how do I tell employees who are on leave?

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. Filo Pilo*

    For #1, I honestly think the caveat in parentheses should have been addressed first. I have never been in a situation where I deliberately sought out overtime; it was always a consequence of managerial understaffing and over-expecting.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Exactly. That was my first thought “how much pressure are they under to finish an unmanageable workload?”
      If the workload is too heavy to finish in 40 hours, the overtime is a systemic problem, not rogue employees!

      1. Nebula*

        It is then up to the employees to say “I can’t do this work in the time allotted without doing overtime, which you’ve told me not to do” rather than doing the overtime anyway. It is disrespectful of them to just ignore the LW despite this discussion happening several times.

    2. B*

      Yes, and giving employees irreconcilable instructions (do 50 hours of work but don’t work overtime) exposes the business to liability one way or the other. Either they work 40 hours and don’t get some work done (and it might be the important work), or they work overtime to get the work done, or — and this is what so many employers are really saying — they work off the clock to meet expectations. But guess what, the company still owes it even if the employees don’t put it on their timesheets, and has opened itself up to a whole world of additional legal trouble.

      1. Greg*

        I have one member of my team who is a rock star. Gets a significant amount done in his 40 hours and asks for more. Some of that more racks up some overtime hours. He is asking for it, he does a bang up job, and honestly I would have to hire 2 people to get the quantity and quality of work I get from him at about 50 hours a week.

        I’ve got someone else on my team who is…not. Slacks off. Was taking at least 3 hour long bathroom breaks because he told his original manager he “had a health issue.” That fell apart the second his new manager asked for documentation. Anyway. He clocked 48 hours on week and when asked who approved it he said, “No one, but Fred is working those hours so I figured I would too.” We had to explain to him why he wasn’t going to be working those hours moving forward and got hit with the, “That’s not faaaaaair.”

      2. Snow Globe*

        I had the same thought, but I note that the LW is a former peer, so presumably has done this job in the past and would know if overtime is really necessary.

        1. Tesuji*

          I feel like that ‘presumably’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.

          It feels equally possible that she was promoted because she was their best producer, and the only one who could do what would take an average employee 50 hours in 40.

          It’s also even possible that she was promoted because she’s a “team player” who worked off-the-clock, and doesn’t understand why her team isn’t doing that.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            That last part seems a little disingenuous. It’s reading into the letter things that just aren’t there.

            What I’d look at is if the company didn’t backfill her position when she was promoted, leaving the team one person short, compared to before the promotion.

        2. Janeric*

          It would be difficult for OP to make a case that they need more staff or a change in how OT is authorized if their staff just takes the time at will

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I was once part of a team of contracted consultants – W2 via third party vendor – and we were regularly told we had to stay at or below 40 hours a week. But the project workloads and deliverables were insane, and when we asked, ‘Can you approve overtime for this project/whatever?’ the answer was always, ‘No…um…just do what you have to do.’ I figure I donated at least $20k worth of my billable time that first year, and I know others did too. I think we all just didn’t want to deal with the fallout of missing deadlines.

        In Year 2, we started announcing ‘Hey, boss, I’m at 40 hours, see my project documentation on the shared drive. I’m logging off until next week,’ on Wednesday evenings or Thursday mornings. We finally got some OT and another contractor.

        1. RedinSC*

          That’s the thing, right? If employees “cover” the true cost/time, no one will know that it’s more than 40 hours.

          But since LW used to be one of the team members presumably they know how much work can/should get done in the 40 hours.

        2. B*

          It’s wage theft, plain and simple, and it is so common.

          It’s also plainly illegal and entitles you to recover at least double your back wages, maybe more depending on the state. It’s also incumbent on the employer to maintain accurate time records. If they fail to do so, and the employee can prove they worked off the clock, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the employee’s reasonable estimate of their hours is correct. In other words, you can still get paid even if you can’t remember whether you worked 55 or 60 hours on some specific week.

          More people should sue!

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      In my job of 25 years, I’ve met two. One retired and the replacement was the same way. “Oh, I just need to finish this.”
      We have the same job.
      You do not.
      The first person, “Not Tom, you get that project every year. It’s not fair.”
      Me: well, there are lots of off cycle things…
      First person: I told boss I wanted it. I’d like the over time! You get it every year.
      Me: um, I’ve never needed over time to finish it. I never thought about that…
      And this was consistent through every off cycle or “special project.”
      “Oh, I’ll do it.”
      So either the work went to ANYBODY else or coworker’s original work was redistributed.
      It was crazy to see their minds work like that.

      1. Orv*

        I’ve had to watch myself before because I’m definitely one of those ADHD types who has trouble stopping a task once I’ve started it. Often avoiding inadvertent overtime meant I had to deliberately avoid starting larger projects if it was too close to quitting time.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I do get that. And the “just five more minutes, Ma!” and suddenly it is a half hour later. It does take self control.
          But I do know people with that goal as well.
          It’s crazy. I’ve been here all day. I want to go home!

        2. Kstruggles (Canada)*

          I’m so glad I have wiggle room for overtime. If I say “couldn’t stop until complete” I get the overtime pay and no questions asked.
          I have issues with not noticing break times rather than EOD.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, I’m actually glad I work in a system with contracted hours and not minute to minute timing (UK). I like to get things done before 5 and am often finishing slightly before then (often enough that the ten minutes before 5 seem like a Zeno’s Paradox of infinitely divisible time where Achillesina Ogden will never catch up with the 5 o’clock shadow of the tortoise), but if it takes me to 5.15 to get everything sent off, then so be it. Likewise, if I’m ready to go by 8.50, then I’m not going to sit twiddling my thumbs until 9 on the dot. I’m not going to start a large chunk of work at 4.50 or agonise if my instructor-led Zoom workout session on Wednesday morning ends at 9.03, so I’m clawing some of those minutes back, but it’s part of a personal strategy where I am flexible in return for what /I’m/ getting out of this new job of mine. I got my position by being a team player, and it’s a darn sight better than where I was before, so YMMV but I’m making hay while the sun shines for my own personal advancement and benefit, and I’m also reaping the rewards. (If it helps I’m in public healthcare facilities, but to be honest if I were providing a commercial product or service I’d still see it as something that benefits me and my lifestyle both directly and indirectly, so I’d do the same for any employer that will have me.)

            I’m not someone who needs to do that or is in a job where it’s expected, but it’s not something I’m going to quibble over because I’d rather have that thing finished and sent off than like 99% there and just waiting for the morning. I’m certainly very rarely late, and don’t take the [urine] by margins I’ve seen in the course of some HR investigations I’ve scribed for recently, but I do want to bring my A-game because I benefit in the long run.

      2. OMG, Bees!*

        It’s rare, as in Reddit stories, but I have heard of quite a few people deliberately seeking overtime so they get extra money. Just have to look at people in work hustle who seek to maximize how much money they can earn to see there are some who would.

        Actually, come to think of it, when a previous job tried to make it mandatory that all techs above helpdesk be added to the after hours on-call rotation, I and 2 other techs refused, while another gladly took over what would have been my hours for the extra pay.

    4. Smithy*

      While I completely understand this – I also do know of people in nursing who do specifically seek out, if not expect, expect a certain amount of overtime over the course of a year. That may be someone specifically looking to save up for something like a wedding, or just that they expect X many overtime shifts a quarter/year to bring their pay to a certain level.

      While I totally get that now nursing is wildly under-staffed and the level of overtime expected or available isn’t desired by many – if a situation happened tomorrow where all nursing teams were staffed to capacity and the opportunities for overtime dramatically dropped – I bet you’d see a percentage that would be upset by that loss. I’m thinking of other shift-based jobs where it’s just not uncommon for a percentage of the staff to desire those overtime shifts whether for savings or just to make a certain dollar amount they need.

      All to say, that while it’s a worthy question to include – around staff having more work on their plate than they can handle. But the flip side of people seeking overtime they do desire to make XYZ dollars a period is also not uncommon.

      1. HB*

        I’ve come across a few articles over the years about how police officers in some areas managed to double or triple their salary through manipulation of the overtime system.

        1. not nice, don't care*

          I know some police dispatchers who were forced into overtime thanks to understaffing and hostile management (as in not allowed to leave dispatch until another dispatcher checked in, and shitty coworkers sometimes did that to each other). Yeah, the money is nice, but not the utter soul-death of dealing with distressed and hostile and mentally ill callers, plus the hostile, misogynist, vindictive management who think money makes workplace torture ok.

          1. Smithy*

            As I mentioned with nurses – being heavily over worked does make the money seem less appealing when you never have a day off. But I also think that the reality is that if you get used to making Salary plus Overtime amount, then going back to Salary plus 25% less Overtime – there will always be people who aren’t keen to lose that money.

            One nurse I know in particular, would love to give up 10-25% of his overtime. But if it went from his very high Overtime amount to none or significantly less, he wouldn’t want that. He’s looking to retire in the next 5 or so years, so is at a point in his life where he is looking to just make as much as possible to have that larger nest egg.

            And with police officers specifically – their heavy usage of overtime has long been noted. If for no other reason than to make sure that annual budgets remain at a certain level or go up, rather than going down because overtime isn’t being used. Just to say that without knowing what sector the OP is in, I just don’t think it’s reasonable for us in the comments to assume that staff only *need* the overtime to finish their work vs who *want* the overtime. Because both do exist.

            1. Check cash*

              OT for shift work is different in that the expectation is that you are doing more work than required for 40 hours by nature of working more than 40 hours, in which those hours are filled by literally..the job.

              For office work, its a little different because someone could still be doing 40 hours of work, but taking longer to do it and taking overtime OR the company is giving 60 hours of work and expecting people to do it in 40 hours. And, if they leave at their regular 40 hours, that work doesn’t go away, it doesn’t switch to someone else. So it can be a bit of a trickier situation to figure out.

            2. New Jack Karyn*

              I read a thread by a public defender which claimed that an awful lot of ridiculous arrests* come in the last half hour of a police shift. The time it takes to book the arrestee, write the report, etc., pushes the cop into overtime. The cases usually get dropped, but it’s very troubling for those arrested–bail, lost wages, arrest on their record, and so forth.

              *–aggravated littering, conspiracy to commit tomfoolery in public, that kind of thing

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Pittsburgh public bus system rocked the city when the news broke that a few drivers took mad overtime and made 3/4x in a year. The news published salaries. People lost their minds. Then they read the rest…oh, he worked 100 hours…

          1. Dawbs*

            yeah… my husband drives (elsewhere) and the local paper always publishes about those 3 drivers with high senority who have not had a day off (like… any day) in 3 years.

            so the city cracks down…. and then they’re over- budget because one person, even with time and a half, who works 80 hours is cheaper than 2 who work 40 but both get benefits, etc.

            1. Troubadour*

              One person who drives a bus 80 hours a week without a day off in 3 years is an accident waiting to happen. :-(

            2. londonedit*

              Yep, we’ve had similar situations here with train drivers. Picking up extra shifts is a nice way for them to earn some extra overtime pay…but then the train companies realised hey, if all these drivers want to do overtime then we can cover the same number of shifts with fewer drivers. So then overtime becomes a ‘you have to do this or we can’t run the service’ rather than a ‘do it if you want some extra cash’. And so then when there was a dispute about pay and working conditions, the drivers said right, that’s it, we’re not working any more overtime.

        3. GythaOgden*

          There was a case where they were issuing bogus parking tickets in the hope of getting overtime pay when the innocent drivers contested them in court, which would give them mandatory overtime. They were caught, and the reason the case was publicised was that one guy’s son was involved in a years-long kidnapping case which actually turned out to have been perpetrated by his own mother. The trauma to the boy and his mother’s own abusive behaviour was caused when his father shot himself when the scam was exposed.

        4. OMG, Bees!*

          I recall this was an issue a few years ago as the police only wanted to attend Pride parade because they got overtime for it. Once that overtime pay was banned, they didn’t attend anymore.

      2. Antilles*

        Yeah, this really depends on the role. OP mentioned the OT has to be paid, which changes the calculus of “would people deliberately seek out overtime”. Especially if it’s a company that pays out OT beyond 40 hours at a higher rate (e.g, 1.5x normal salary).

      3. doreen*

        I’m sure there are people who seek overtime because they are underpaid or because they have to much work to finish in a normal week. But there are also people who seek out overtime and even some who work unnecessary overtime. I saw that all the time at one job – we had extremely flexible schedules due to the nature of the work and we basically made out own schedule, so if I had to see someone at 7 pm on Thursday, I was supposed to account for that when I made my schedule . I wasn’t supposed to come in at 8:30 every day work ’till 4:30 every day except Thursday and get three hours overtime for working until 7:30 on Thursday. But people tried to do that sort of thing that all the time.

      4. Joe Lies*

        My spouse wrapped up a 40 year career in corrections during the pandemic. With mandated OT he was clearing a mid six figures. The problem was his coworkers started living like that was their base pay. When staffing evened out, they panicked since that OT money in their heads became their base pay.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      When I was hourly and low wage I sought as much overtime as possible. Bills don’t care how tired you are.

        1. what even*

          Not necessarily. There’s only so much a young person can reasonably make as someone new to the workforce and overtime pays a lot better than a second job.

            1. what even*

              Yes, but that isn’t necessarily the equation. Young people have fewer obligations and much more energy (in general) than those further along in their careers. You can have enough to live on and still enjoy overtime because, again, it pays way better than a second job and who doesn’t like the extra cash when you have the time and energy to earn it.

        2. Roland*

          There is no amount of money that will guarantee that none of your hourly workers will want more by means of overtime. Or if there is, it’s certainly much higher than anyone outside the 1% makes.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I love overtime and will work as much as is authorized.

        Emphasis on IS AUTHORIZED. Because my employer has a budget, and if I bust their budget with my unauthorized OT, then I will have way less money because they should fire me for insubordination.

    6. Decidedly Me*

      I have definitely sought out overtime in my life, for a variety of personal reasons. Never against guidelines, though.

    7. MsClaw*

      I’ve seen this from many sides…..

      People who put in extra time because they are overworked or need to meet a deadline.
      People who put in extra time because they think it makes them look committed and zealous about the job.
      People who want to make a few extra bucks and are willing work a little extra to get it and may or may not understand what they’re doing to a budget.
      People who are productive about 30% of the day but want to get paid for an extra hour or two per day of watching youtube

      1. You want stories, I got stories*

        All of these are true.

        My current job is experiencing the last one. A few people started staying a bit later into the next shift to get a bit of extra money. But they are also the slow workers who never do much. These are the guys who barely do “ok” at their job. (Referencing early question today)

    8. Medium Sized Manager*

      I work with a lot of people who, despite my explicit warnings, consider overtime as part of their expected salary. We are paid within the market of the industry but always have OT that can be done (but is not required!) so people have gotten in the habit of always bringing in extra cash. On the rare occasions we need to limit OT, we get a lot of pushback from people who factor that money into their expected take-home.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah – I think a reality is that no matter how much people might be told to treat overtime as just extra savings, after a while it will feel steady. And so having that taken away would ultimately feel like a 10-20% pay cut vs no longer having overtime.

        I used to work somewhere where if you used any of your weekend or federal holidays for work holiday, you were either able to get comp days or additional money. And then at one point the additional money option went away and it was just comp days. And the UPSET caused by having that option go away was very loud. And this option wasn’t nearly as much money or as regular as overtime. For those of us who used the money in lieu of the Comp Day, we were largely paid less overall and found that extra money really helpful to support other travel costs above and beyond traditional per diem. Things like buying extra clothes or travel toiletries, dry cleaning bills, replacing a lost neck pillow – just those travel extras that can add up and when you make less, every extra penny helps.

        1. Medium Sized Manager*

          In my almost decade with the company, we have limited OT twice, so people definitely treat it as a guarantee. Which, full disclosure, before I was salaried, that was also me! You would not have been able to convince me that it was too much work/I needed to cut back/etc. But, when I slowed down by nature of not getting paid for OT, I realized how much I had been defaulting to work instead of cultivating hobbies and a life and the ability to slow the eff down.

    9. Lady Danbury*

      There are some roles/industries where overtime is highly sought after bc the overtime pay can be very lucrative. It’s usually a result of a job that requires a certain number of people to be there at a certain times (for scheduling issues, industry/legislative requirements, etc) and have a strong union presence to negotiate on their behalf, so if people call out for whatever reason then there’s a space in the schedule that needs to be filled. That will often result in overtime because the other employees are already working a full time schedule. For example, the MTA needs a certain number of train operators to operate their full schedule, so if someone calls out sick then their replacement may be working overtime.

    10. Purpleshark*

      The Letter Writer said these folks used to be their peers before the promotion. Wouldn’t they know the workload? They would be very aware of the demands on the employees and could address it if that was the issue. It would be one thing if they were new to the company and new to management but in this instance, I think they have insider knowledge of what the job needs are.

    11. Lisa*

      When I was an intern as a broke college student, we were technically paid hourly though we were on a regular 40h/wk office schedule. Partway through the summer we were all authorized for overtime because there was a big deadline and even if the salaried workers pulled extra hours the team wouldn’t make it. You better bet we all worked overtime! The extra 5-10 hours/week paid for my books for the next semester.

      1. You want stories, I got stories*

        I was in the same boat. I was the only hourly member on my team. I never had a problem working a bit of overtime to earn some extra money.

      2. Check cash*

        Lifeguarded and of course you always have to lifeguard on things like the 4th of July. That was double time for a holiday and if it fell on a Sunday it was something crazy. We loved working Sundays, weekends (because the day started later so you got paid for work after 6pm) Fun summer job and was always able to save up.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I once worked overtime on Labor Day because someone was late coming in by a couple of hours (the supervisor was probably on the phone all that time finding someone). Nice paycheck that time!

    12. watermelon fruitcake*

      Counterpoint: people regularly abuse overtime in our office because every day, the boss insists there is no money for raises… But, somehow, there is always money for overtime, even when it is unapproved and technically against policy. Since he is a bad and conflict-avoidant manager, he never reprimands anybody, even though it is the same handful of people with the same workload as everybody else (the latter group getting things done and leaving on time). Our organization – hell, our entire industry – is not one where overtime is ever really necessary; we go through very predictable feast-and-famine cycles but are adequately staffed year-round. The only time OT is approved is, therefore, 1. when we host weekend events to encourage employees to volunteer their time to staff said events, and 2. select professional development events (conferences, seminars, training, etc.) that – again – take place on weekends and must be approved in advance.

      For some reason, despite certain repeat offenders logging as much as 30+ hours of overtime over one 2-week pay period… They’re never denied (I suppose legally they can’t be), and they’re never stopped from doing it.

      My broke butt sitting here, wishing I had the audacity…

    13. Hush42*

      I have one employee who has outright said that he wants to work all the overtime that is allowed (right now up to 5 hours per week). It’s because his wife cut back her working hours significantly when their son was born and he’s trying to make up for that lost income. The nature of the job means that there is always more work that *can* be done although it doesn’t necessarily require overtime for it to get done.

      I have another employee who works too much overtime (and has been talked to about it many times) because they can’t get their work done in a standard 40 hour week. But it’s not because the work can’t be done in 40 hours, it’s a performance issue on their end (others on the team with less experience and a larger workload don’t have issues with a 40 hour week). They are currently headed toward a PIP for this reason though, so maybe not a great example.

    14. Filosofickle*

      Early in my career there were many times I desperately wanted more time to make something better! It wasn’t because I wanted look better or earn more, it was because — as a young graphic designer — the quality of my work product mattered and having better work in my portfolio was how I’d get a better job. I was thrilled to go exempt salaried after that.

    15. elelel*

      I think you’ve been very lucky if you’ve never worked somewhere that people wanted overtime. This is common to see in lots of service industry jobs. I was always thrilled to work 50-60 hours a week during the holidays because the pay difference was huge.

    16. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      I had a coworker who did everything except her job during her 9-5 and then worked nights and weekends to catch up. She was a nightmare when she was hourly. She wouldn’t work when she was clocked in and she worked a numerous hours off the clock and we never could tell if we needed a second person to help her or not.

  2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    Start sending them home early? Or give a final warning, saying the next time it happens, someone’s getting fired, and follow through with that? That’s a sucky option, but there’s got to be some kind of actual consequence or they’ll keep doing it.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, I feel weird saying this, but firing is definitely an option. This is a big deal. I like forcing people to go home first.

      Before doing this definitely make sure that the workload doesn’t require overtime. Other commenters have a rich conversation on this, but definitely make sure that people have a reasonable workload and timelines. If that is all good, then you need to take serious steps to make people understand this is serious. Send them home early to avoid overtime. If they are used to weekly timesheets, make them do daily timesheets. Downgrade them on evaluations. Have very serious, very direct conversations. Put them on a PIP. If they are shrugging you off and continuing to take unapproved overtime, that’s a fireable offense.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep, we consider working unauthorized OT a fireable offense. You get one, “hey, please don’t do this again, here’s the policy”, one formal/written notice, and then you’re gone. OT authorization is very straightforward – if it’s not customer-chargeable, you get supervisor approval prior to working it; if it’s customer-chargeable, you get supervisor or project manager approval prior to working it. (For the latter, the approval is often built into the request or not – can you do X, OT is/is not approved for it.)

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      Is this something for a PIP? I don’t work in a field where overtime is a thing, so I don’t know how other places handle it.

    4. Orange You Glad*

      Make getting the work done in a 40 hr work week* part of your performance goals and reviews.

      *assuming the job can be done during regular hours most of the time and there aren’t other work load issues

  3. Caramel & Cheddar*

    These are older letters, but for #2 I’d also make sure that job postings say you’re dog-friendly, rather than just waiting to bring it up in the interview. The drinking culture stuff you mention isn’t so unusual, but pet-friendly workplaces are still less common and mentioning it off the top could save you lots of time with people who would say no to that under any circumstances (or bring in more candidates who were on the fence about applying but who would love that perk).

    1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      I agree with this. I’m not a dog person and would prefer to self-select out of this; my sister loves every dog ever and would apply in a heartbeat.

      1. Lady Danbury*

        I would also self-select out. I enjoy dogs during my personal time but would not want them at my place of work, especially considering all of the horror stories I’ve seen on AAM about badly behaved dogs in the workplace.

      2. Rex Libris*

        Also not a dog person. Between the two I’d be much less concerned about the wine. Both may stain the carpet, but I’ve never been aggressively pawed by wine.

    2. Chortle*

      Yeah, the drinking level sounds very common for US/UK offices, if you put too much emphasis on that, you may paradoxically make them think the drinking culture is much more intense than it is. The dogs are much more of a noteworthy inclusion.

    3. Laura*

      Maybe my work experience is weird, but having beer in the fridge at an office seems weird to me. Having champagne at a few special occasions, not as much.

      But yes, definitely say you’re dog friendly and explain what that means in the job posting.

    4. Random Dice*

      I hope they do mention the drinking. I’ve been around the block often enough that I would see that as a red flag – not for the drinking itself, I drink, but because I’ve never been in a healthy organization that drinks in the office.

      Oh, shocker, you fun office drinkers have management that sexually harasses subordinate women and HR tells the women to handle it themselves. Or, oh, you’re saying you hire kids straight out of school, underpay them and work them relentlessly but make up for it with lots of booze and mandatory fun? How unexpected.

      1. Shepherdess*

        I agree that this fun perk could easily be abused in ways that the OP hasn’t considered. It’s easy to identify an employee who’s been marinating in beer all afternoon and now can’t string together a coherent sentence. It can be a lot more difficult to recognize when the office culture has slid into “toxic tolerance” of alcohol abuse.

        One question can help you identify a problem right off the bat: How are non-drinkers viewed and treated at your office? Do people take the same approach with them that they would take with, say, someone who doesn’t like tea: “Hey, each to their own. Some like it, some don’t, no big deal!”? That would be the sign of a healthy, accepting, mature culture.

        Or are people side-eyeing the non-drinkers, or speculating that they’re only sober because they’re in recovery from ASD, religious fanatics or pregnant? If THAT’S the case, THEN you’ve got a problem, because that will inevitably slide over into not-so-subtle pressure to drink just to prove that none of the above three descriptions fits YOU. So, OP, if you’re mindful and vigilent in ensuring that this attitude does not crop up, you and your workplace should be fine.

        1. RagingADHD*

          I think what Random Dice was saying was not that the problem behaviors stem directly from alcohol abuse, or pressure to drink, but that they have seen a correlation (at least in their industry) between beer in the office fridge and unhealthy management that also manifests in other ways, such as “bro culture”.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I think I worked at one of the rare companies which managed to grow up over a decade or so from a certain variety of lightly beer-marinated tech bro into a much less boozy Wine Dad ambience.

            I don’t recall anyone ever pressuring anyone to partake, and official company boozing was time and location limited. But I’d joined well after the point that Friday night keg ragers had turned into genteel craft beer and wine picnics where staff brought spouses and kids.

            This was the place where my manager had a rule that alcohol could not be expensed unless there was food on the receipt as well. (I’ve learned that this was a departmental rule and not a company rule, but it really should be more widespread in places that allow business drinking.) There was still a robust file drawer bar culture when I left, but I never saw (or smelled!) anyone drinking on the clock.

  4. bamcheeks*

    “To be clear, I’ve never seen anyone be irresponsible about it and that wouldn’t fly here, but I know it’s not for everyone so I want to be up front about it.”

    Ooh, I think I’d add this anyway even if it’s technically not accurate, to handle the “people who are a little too excited to work somewhere with beer” problem. I mean, even if there are senior people or people in other teams who ARE irresponsible about it, the fact that LW is being very responsible about it means it wouldn’t fly to be irresponsible in *her* team.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I’d be careful about this. Something like, “To be clear, I don’t tolerate people on my team being irresponsible with alcohol at work” might be appropriate, but if my future-boss told me that she’s never seen anyone being irresponsible with alcohol here, and then I stick around for some socializing my first Friday there and people are getting absolutely schmammered, I would feel like either a) my new boss’s judgement about alcohol is wildly questionable or b) I’d been fed a bait-and-switch (because I don’t want to work somewhere where it’s acceptable to get extremely drunk at work).

        1. Petty Crocker*

          “Schmammered” is a definitive level of drunk, for sure. There’s hammered, then there’s schmammered. Lots more schllurrrryyy schlllluuuuurrrrrrring and word stretching. Shmammered includes a very special kind of hellish hangover, one that lasts much longer than the average hammered hangover. My intentional schmammed days are well over but I (kinda) remember them.

      1. Elsewise*

        I agree with you. I also have several loved ones who are fine being around *drinking* but are extremely uncomfortable being around *drunkenness*. (Honestly, probably even more people are uncomfortable with someone being, as you say, schmammered, in the workplace.)

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          I’m like that. I’m fine being around drinking (and I can have a beer or two myself sometimes). Drunkenness makes me feel super uncomfortable and anxious to the point of needing to take measures to prevent an anxiety attack (it stems from trauma in my personal life) and I actively avoid places and situations where people are likely to be drunk (bars and clubs, certain types of parties around crowds I don’t know, etc.)

    2. Joe Lies*

      I’m a non-drinker…when my last employer installed a glass front refrigerator with beer, wine and spirits in the employee lunch room, they called it a perk. It didn’t take long to see that this was going sideways and that sone people can’t be around free booze all day long.

  5. Caramel & Cheddar*

    For #1, what happens when the workload *is* unrealistic but that aspect won’t change? Sometimes the work just straight up won’t get done if you’re limiting hours because you won’t approve / can’t afford overtime, but employers rarely seem keen to accept that a deadline will be missed / a project will fall apart / an event will not go on when you do take the time to step back and work normal hours. Many (most?) bosses aren’t great at making the choice to do less so that workloads are tenable.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      My first job after college was like this – someone senior to my department (we reported to another manager, but would sometimes get assignments from this person) told us to stop working overtime even when it might be approved so that upper management could see we were struggling with the workload. I don’t know if it worked (I got out of there pretty quick), but I think all you can do as a middle manager is to let some balls drop.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        *I want to be clear this depends on the industry – I was customer service/admin for a manufacturing company. Health care, some kinds of logistics, etc are very different!

      2. ferrina*

        I’ve done this as a manager. I was repeatedly given overambitious deadlines. Finally it got to the impossible level.

        My grandboss came in with yet another new assignment. I smiled politely and said “Looks wonderful! I’ll schedule a kick-off call to take place in a month.”

        He was stunned. “A month? But the client wants us to kick this off now!”

        “If we do that, we’ll need to either need to pushback the deadline for Major Client A or Major Client B. Which would you like me to postpone?” I replied helpfully, knowing full well that neither project could be postponed.

        He walked away muttering something about being able to postpone the new project. The next day I was magically approved to hire not one, but TWO new staff members.

        *Note that my boss was nowhere in this. She never pushed back, but instead kicked down. She told me to “just get it done” to every impossible assignment. I had petitioned for additional staff repeatedly and laid out the business case. She told me it wasn’t possible. She was out sick this day, and she was stunned when she came back to find out that 1) I had said “No” to my grandboss and 2) I got those new staff positions that she had claimed were impossible (I suspect she never actually asked for them)

    2. Yup*

      I once worked at an agency that had half-days on Fridays, except I was the only person doing my particular job and I had to answer to clients who did not have half-day Fridays. One Friday afternoon a VP popped her head in and told me to go home, it’s a half-day, that’s a benefit I should take advantage of, the work can wait, etc. etc. Except the client they gave me to take care of was working the whole day long and we were in the middle of a project. What help did the agency offer me to take the half day off like my colleagues? None. Telling me to go home was the entirety of the solution. But if I ended up losing them the client? I imagine that would have been on me.

    3. OT Blues*

      In all honesty if it will fail if unauthorized OT is stopped then it will allow the organization to face its shortcomings. It’s kind of like metrics and bean counter stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Sometimes the best way to counter it is not to meet the unreasonable deadline/workload.
      However it sounds like in this letter they are slowing down or just staying at work so they get OT. I’ve known a few people in my career that will do things like take lunch after the 5th hour not because they were busy but because they get an extra hour of pay in my state.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        “In all honesty if it will fail if unauthorized OT is stopped then it will allow the organization to face its shortcomings.”

        I agree with this in principle, but in practice I’ve never experienced it. People want things to be successful and they don’t like leaving their colleagues in a lurch, and that’s enough to guilt people into not letting things fail, which I think a lot of companies are relying on tbh.

        1. FrivYeti*

          Yep. One of my first jobs out of college, the business started to pick up but management wouldn’t hire more people, so our queue gradually got worse and worse. When our team manager went to upper management about the situation, he was told that this was clearly a team management problem and if he didn’t get the queue back under control he would be fired. He had to come back to the team and ask us to work unpaid overtime under the table to save his job. As you can imagine, morale after that was *not great*.

          (That was the day I started planning my escape; it took me almost six months as things went increasingly downhill, culminating in mass layoffs on my last scheduled day of work.)

        2. hbc*

          I think a lot of people in management are unhappy to learn that things won’t get done when they hope they will, especially if there’s been some gradual creep. And while some of those managers are hoping to have a staff of workaholics and guilt-perfectionists, I’ve seen it more often that employees are guilting themselves into doing it without there being any pressure beyond there being a pile of work possibly going undone.

      2. PotsPansTeapots*

        Yep, goofing around to get overtime is definitely a thing, at least at office jobs I worked.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          At a many years ago job, there was some polite walking around the fact that one of the interns (this was a job title and not what you’re thinking here, its in a profession that requires internships for licensure) who’d requested any OT available, was the source of the reason we were working OT that weekend. We had a hard deadline, her work was absolutely riddled with errors, incomplete information, and was just not ready. There was zero reason for any of her aspects of the work to be incomplete. None. There was a serious conversation between our supervisor and the offending intern.

          She’s come a long way (as in, from here to the edge of the Milky Way and back in distance) in professional norms and behaviors, but dang, those first couple of years were awkward AF.

        2. Bast*

          I have seen this too, but it was one or two individuals, and not an entire time. The letter seemed to imply to me that a good deal of the team was working OT not just a couple of folks, which leads me to believe they are potentially understaffed/overworked rather than just goofing off to get the OT.

    4. Hazel*

      And let’s be real: some people who go to straight from high school to college to a white-collar job have no idea how labor-intensive or time-consuming some jobs can be, and when they are then positioned as some kind of “lean officer,” they end up reducing headcounts while expecting the same output, often expecting regular human beings (who often get paid just a little above minimum wage anyway) to function as robots.

  6. Tradd*

    I’ve been in the situation with No. 1 letter years ago. NOT working the OT wasn’t an option. International transportation and shipments have to get handled or you end up with thousands in rail yard or airline storage if shipments aren’t picked up timely. We didn’t do the OT once to prove a point to management. and they ended up with so much storage that management shut up about the OT. Workload was horrid, they wouldn’t get more people. It was cheaper to pay the OT than another person. OT was MUCH cheaper than the rail yard/airline storage.

  7. Yup*

    For #2 and the part about being dog-friendly: A lot of people have a fear of dogs, or (like me) an extreme allergy that results in sneezing, itchy eyes, hives, and asthma attacks. So yes, if pets are allowed in the office, then this 100% should be made clear.

    But my bigger question for this is always: If an ideal candidate cannot take a job at a pet-friendly office because of allergies/asthma/phobia/etc., who stays–the pets or the potential employee? And if it’s the employee, do they then become “that person who made us leave out pets at home”? That can’t go over very well… Pet-friendly offices have always felt to me. We don’t allow children in offices (except for emergencies or special days), so why do animals so unquestioningly get a pass?

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Your first paragraph is a great example of why putting it on the posting and mentioning it when setting up the interview are crucial — you don’t want to show up to an in-person interview where your interviewer or the chairs, etc. are covered in something that will make you ill.

      1. Yup*

        Exactly. But… do companies really pass on potentially fantastic employees because of pet culture? Are they allowed to prioritize pets over people like that? What if you have severe allergies/phobia and you want to work in an industry that’s now pet-friendly? It feels like discrimination, but I can’t quite figure out the ethics or legality of it.

        I used to wonder if some place I worked for announced this policy, and I’d have to say, sorry, I can’t continue to work here under those conditions. Would I be expected to quit? Or would they roll back the policy and then I’d be the bad guy? I’ve never found the answer.

        1. Jackalope*

          I wouldn’t look at it as prioritizing pets over people; I would look at it as prioritizing people who want a pet-friendly office over people who don’t or can’t (because of allergies, phobias, etc.). For many people this is a huge perk, and while it would turn some people off of the job, it would also draw many others.

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            But is that not still prioritising a perk over equal employment opportunities/someone’s health issues?

            1. Laura*

              Yes, but it’s unlikely that business or organization is the ONLY place that the potential employee can work. Also, this might vary by where in the US you are, but in my experience, dog-friendly offices aren’t all that common.

        2. not nice, don't care*

          People pass on potentially fantastic employees because of bigotry all the time. They prioritize religious lifestyle choices over people and basic decency. Why not pets ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        3. Kyrielle*

          In terms of legalities, they would need to accommodate the employee with the allergies or phobia, assuming it rose to the level of a disability. That might look like letting them work full time remote, or some other solution, or it might mean not being pet-friendly any longer. The last tends to go over about as badly as you’d anticipate with other employees, but the employer is obliged to protect the employee from retaliation, so it gets messy at that point.

          (I am allergic *and* phobic, but I’d only need minor accommodations for the latter and none for the former – I’m far MORE allergic to other things and constantly exposed, so the antihistamines I take for that means that as long as I’m not cuddling the pups and they’re not allowed in the space I mainly work in, I’m fine. And the phobia – I could be in an office with them, but I’d need a small space I could be sure of not running into them in, and the office would need a no-tolerance policy on ill-behaved dogs, which it ought to have anyway. So I would no longer be difficult to accommodate. A decade ago, the phobia would have been a much bigger issue, but I’ve been working on it.)

          But in this case, tolerating the dogs is not an essential part of the job. For obvious reasons, the calculus changes if it is. But there we’re talking obvious things – doggy day cares, shelters, veterinary clinics. (Although it can get interesting when someone with a disability using a *service dog* is present, along with someone with a phobia or allergy – both disabilities need to be accommodated, somehow.)

    2. anon_sighing*

      I would hope that there was some forward thinking to the pet-friendly thing like a space where people with allergies could work that was away from any concentrated allergens (i.e., a separate floor). I’ve seen places that are pet friendly, but it seemed like the company usually leased/owned the whole building so there was probably some flexibility.

      1. Anon for This*

        I work in a pet-friendly workplace and zero consideration was given to the broader ramifications of the policy beyond there being a stipulation that if your dog was causing problems, you couldn’t bring it in. Nothing about dog-free meeting rooms, what should happen if someone has an allergy/phobia, etc. I asked HR about various things raised in this thread and their response was basically it’s your job to work it out with the dog owner. It’s such a uniquely terrible policy, it boggles my mind.

        1. Yup*

          THIS. This is the only kind of response I see about what actually happens in pet-friendly places. I think it’s hugely problematic, but… so little actual policy about protecting workers. It feels so problematic.

        2. Chortle*

          Indeed, I had a coworker once who put puppy pads all over the office (including UNDER MY DESK) instead of training or walking their pet during the workday. It of course also barked a lot and was generally disruptive, and the owner just thought it was sooooo cute.

          I think a LOT of dog owners are responsible and will make sure their dog is OK to bring to work, but some aren’t, and those ones ruin the whole thing for me.

        3. Laura*

          That’s awful and this is the issue with companies becoming pet friendly when they weren’t previously – they need to accommodate employees with phobias and allergies.

    3. Tree*

      If your office is dog friendly or about to be dog friendly in the near future, please put this in the posting or at least disclose it in interviews. I am extremely allergic to dogs, checked during the interview that pets were not permitted, and a month after I started a new job, the office announced they would be dog friendly going forward. This had been in the works for a while but since it wasn’t implemented yet, the interviewers didn’t want to tell me even though I was clear that I can’t work in a dog friendly office. I reminded about our conversation and they decided not to allow dogs and I got blamed by my new coworkers. I never would have taken the job if I knew they were planning this.

      1. Yup*

        This here is my nightmare situation–to either have to face asthma attacks every day and feel horrible, or to be the office bad guy if the policy is revoked.

      2. Anonymoose*

        Wait, you were clear that you wouldn’t be able to work in a dog friendly office during the interview? That seems like a strange thing to bring up out of the blue, if they hadn’t told you anything about being or becoming a dog friendly office.

    4. DisclosuresNotAlwaysPositive*

      If I had an allergy it would irritate me to see thus in the job ad because it causes me to self report sooner than I would otherwise. It doesn’t matter if they have a dog friendly office and I’m allergic to dogs – if I’m otherwise qualified for the job I’m allowed to apply and they can sort out a solution later. By disclosing dog friendly it makes this a much more contentious process.

  8. Drago Cucina*

    I know a nearby public library system that didn’t put their foot down about this. Someone worked an extra half-hour every day and didn’t put it in the time system. For years. It was nothing that couldn’t have waited, but she didn’t like to leave things “undone”.

    When she retired it became an issue and the library had to pay her, and into the retirement system, for about twenty-years of 30 minutes of time. It was a huge hit to their budget.

    It put fear into me and my nice, ‘If you work I have to pay you,’ talk to a stern, ‘Don’t do this or you’ll be suspended’ talk.

      1. Q*

        It doesn’t matter if she put it in the system they know she worked it they have to pay it. How they found out might be interesting.

        1. HB*

          But without the time card HOW do they know she worked it. I could understand going back a couple of weeks (maybe months?) but 20 years? There’s no proof.

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            there absolutely can be proof in the form of things like emails, timestamps in electronic systems, badge swipes etc.

            1. HB*

              No, not 20 years worth. Also you’re not talking about proving a missed large chunk from a limited period… you’re talking about a missing 30 minutes a week *every* week. That means proving that the original hours were worked PLUS the next 30.

              Heck, even the Department of Labor isn’t going to let you go back and sue for anything more than 3 years old. What this library did is bonkers (super nice for the employee, but BONKERS).

              1. Fluffy Fish*

                yes i agree the time frame probably is inaccurate or there’s things missing from the story.

                just more to the point of not being on the timesheet or “recorded” doesnt let businesses off the hook for paying for time worked.

            2. Hazel*

              At my first job when everyone else in the department (even the supervisor) was always stressing out about the workload, the impossible deadlines, and the possibility of getting fired if they don’t get things done, and where I was the only one with no kids, I took it upon myself to spend 2-3 hours after officially clocking out to get done tasks that wouldn’t leave any digital footprints (I also started an hour later than everyone else). I suppose there would be recordings of me leaving the facility later than I should’ve, but even if HR figured it out, they wouldn’t care as long as I wasn’t planning on suing the company.

              These days I’m not dumb enough (plus I’m too old and tired all the time) to make things my problem what management is paid good money to figure out, but point is it’s relatively easy to do unpaid work with absolutely no documentation. (I also wanted to point out this was the company that made the production/warehouse supervisors line up everyone 3-5 minutes before they break ended so they could clock in on time and walk straight back to work.

          2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            In addition to no proof, there is likely a statute of limitations which would limit the amount of time that the organization would have to go back.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        if it came to light, it doesnt matter if she put it in the system or not. it would still need to be paid.

        it’s why we hear of payroll staff pleading with people to turn in their timesheets – no timesheet isn’t a justification not to pay people.

      3. Lifelong student*

        Some years ago, there was a former employee who had been let go in a massive RIF caused by changes in government funding. Admittedly the employee had been soemwhat of a thorn prior to that. In any case, although it was after I left that job, this employee sued for overtime, claiming she had worked many hours which had never been entered on time sheets. As she worked alone at a remote location and her job did in fact include out of facility items, there was no way as far as I know to verify these claims. In the end, she obtained a large settlement for working unapproved overtime. The personnel policy clearly stated unapproved overtime was not allowed. Don’t know how the settlement dealt with the fact that she had signed time sheets not including it- but she got the money- with the help of attorneys.

        1. HB*

          Oooh, interesting. They must have been able to verify it somehow (my first thought is evidence that the company knew the employee was working unauthorized overtime and someone had instructed the employee to get the work done but not report the hours). Or if they thought there was another valid employment claim related to their termination and the settlement was basically a catch all to cover all potential claims.

          1. Lifelong student*

            Yes I imagine it was a settlement. While I do not know the details as it was after I left, I would not be suprised to hear that it was just to make her go away! By the way, this was a NFP religious related organization with some chaos with changing leadership.

        2. Sangamo Girl*

          There was a case years ago in the National Park Service that was hauled out when explaining OT that was “suffered and permitted” without documentation.

          The park was **extremely** remote. A staff member went to town, IIRC at least 90 miles away, once a week for supplies and picked up the park mail while there. Did it for decades. Everyone knew because they got their mail and didn’t have to drive to get it.

          Well that person retired, sued for decades of unpaid OT, and won. There are many different ways to prove things.

          1. HB*

            “sued for decades of unpaid OT, and won”

            …How? Statute of limitations for claims is 3 years.

          2. doreen*

            The part that doesn’t ring true about these stories ( aside from the statute of limitations) is why – why would anybody work overtime for decades and say nothing and then suddenly say something when it’s time to retire ? I just don’t see the benefit. I can almost see someone working extra hours because they can’t get their work done and claiming the overtime if they are fired or laid off but that would really be a form of retaliation and wouldn’t apply to retirement.

            1. Freya*

              Assuming that it must be paid out, do you calculate what the OT was worth at the time it was worked, or do you pay it out at the per-hour rate applicable at the time you pay it? If the latter, then there’s your financial incentive for people who only look at the dollar figure and not the actual purchasing power or the compound savings you’re losing out on by waiting…

            2. Silence*

              Probably were fine doing it at the time then found retirement more expensive than anticipated and looking for anywhere to get $

    1. anon_sighing*

      If she didn’t record it, were they just taking her at word-of-mouth that she did it?

      The only way my brain can work this is that she did enter it, they didn’t pay her, but upon an audit, they realized they needed to pay her. Otherwise, I can’t see where the paper trail is for these 20 years of 30 min segments (when to start and stop) or any logic as to why they’d pay it without any on-paper proof. Interesting case if they paid out via eye-witness accounts or just because she said.

    2. doreen*

      I think you got only part of the story or the person who told you got it mixed up – first, there’s the issue of how did they know she worked an extra 30 minutes a day for twenty years if she didn’t put it into the system. Yes, they have to pay it if they know she worked it , but it’s unlikely that any one person knew she was working an extra half hour every day for all those years. And they don’t have to just take her word for it if she claims she’s been doing it every day for twenty years. Then there’s the pension thing – pensions are generally based on an average salary of a certain number of years. It might be one or three or five but not ten or twenty (because then it would have to be adjusted for inflation)

      1. HB*

        If the retirement plan is defined contribution rather than defined benefit, they would need to pay in a percentage of what they paid her as OT. That percentage wouldn’t be terribly high though.

        (Assuming the person who related the story originally got it correct… I have my doubts, but employers do lots of weird things voluntarily which is why I was hoping for more details)

        1. doreen*

          Yes, they would possibly have to pay a percentage of what they paid her as overtime . I’m talking about something a little different – most pensions don’t calculate how much the $25K you earned in 1987 converts to 2024 dollars like SS does. They just use the average of the highest X consecutive years so working 130 extra hours every year for 20 years has the same affect as doing it for X years.

        2. Freya*

          Side note: superannuation funds are the Australian equivalent, and they’re a statutory minimum here – it’s illegal not to pay the bare minimum into super funds on behalf of your employees, and company directors can be held personally liable for the failure to do so of the company they allegedly run. Superannuation is currently a minimum of 11% (going up to 11.5% at 1st July) of the value of your ordinary hours (plus some other things that are defined as making up part of your Ordinary Time Earnings, but overtime is explicitly not superable). This is on top of your take-home/taxable pay.

    3. not nice, don't care*

      I wish it worked like that. Library administrations are usually super draconian when it comes to staff.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        Except for THAT one employee. You know the type of library administration I’m talking about ;-D
        I inherited someone that the rest of the staff had been told to go behind her and fix all her mistakes.

    4. HBJ*

      Yea, this isn’t true. With the caveat that I don’t know every single state law that might be more restrictive and maybe you’re not in the US, there is a statute of limitations on back pay. DOL limit is three years, max. And I specifically googled California, since I know they usually have more restrictive/generous (depends on how you look at it, I guess!) laws than other places, and even their limitations is a max of 4 years.

  9. RedinSC*

    For #3, if you don’t have personal emails for them, but do have cell phones would texting that message be OK? I was thinking texting was a bit more invasive on personal time, but might be the only way to get the message to them?

    1. Tradd*

      In my opinion, texts and emails are equal. You’re not calling someone. They can answer the written message (text/email) when convenient.

      1. HonorBox*

        Yeah, I think a text is the same as email in this case. It is a kindness to reach out to those employees and either format is good for this type of message.

      2. Honoria Lucasta*

        I would feel differently about a text than about an email generally in my off-hours. A text is a little more personal and therefore a little more intrusive. You can often see if a text has been read/delivered, for example, where read-receipts are rare in emails, and I can keep my work email closed when I’m out of office where I don’t have a separate cell phone number for work questions (so texts would arrive in the same inbox as messages from my family and friends).

        But an issue like this, where the point is to get the message through on a personal level before addressing it fully in work-fashion, would rise to the level of making a text the appropriate medium in my mind.

  10. Some Words*

    There are plenty of people who clock every hour they can, especially those on the lower end of the pay-scale. Even when it’s explicitly told “nobody is currently approved to work overtime” there are always a couple. Some will work slowly deliberately to ensure their work isn’t done at the end of the day.

    The world is punishingly expensive right now.

    I’ve seen the other side of this as well. “Get the work done without using OT, even though it’s impossible”.

  11. Q*

    I worked in police/fire dispatching. Enough overtime that people rarely tried to sneak it in but I suppose if they relied on regular OT for budget purposes someone might. Doubtful but if you tell them no OT without authorization and they continue to work it either you have a workflow problem or an insubordination problem. I never liked the “discipline to manage employees” thing that thrives in public safety but if it’s really not a workflow/workload/whatever problem and they are just ignoring you…

  12. HonorBox*

    My mind immediately jumped to workload for the first letter. I’m curious about whether it is that there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, or if people are just sticking around to finish up stuff that isn’t imminently important and can wait until the next day. The thing that really stands out to me, though, is that people are being told not to and still doing it. That plus the fact that they’re not getting approval makes me feel like people are feeling like they can just do it and not that there’s a real and true need.

    Whether it is a workload situation or not, it is well within your right to require that you give approval for any and all overtime, per policy. Because without the approval, and without understanding of why an employee is asking for that overtime, it is hard to make a case to upper management to make a change. I think if LW is very clear one last time that approval is required for overtime, and that employees need to talk to them first, they can then finish that thought by saying that without it, hours will be adjusted so that the company isn’t paying for unapproved overtime. Let someone come to request it if it is necessary, and use that information to make a change if a change is needed.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      hours will be adjusted so that the company isn’t paying for unapproved overtime.

      This is not legal in the US for non-exempt employees, which is why organizations are often hard on it – they are legally required to pay for all hours worked, including overtime where appropriate.

      1. HB*

        I’m guessing Honor Box was talking about adjusting future hours (i.e. telling them to go home early or not come in the rest of the week), not adjusting the hours already worked.

        1. HonorBox*

          Yes, that’s indeed what I mean. Adjusting for future hours like telling someone to leave early on a future day in the pay period.

      2. doreen*

        They are required to pay for all hours worked – but they can send people home two hours early on Tuesday if they worked two extra hours on Monday, just as long as both days are in the same payweek.

        1. Kyrielle*

          …and not in California, where time in excess of 8 hours per day must be paid overtime regardless of the week’s total.

          1. Chriama*

            Then you’d send them home 1.5 hours early for every hour of overtime they worked. Same idea, just a different calculation.

    2. Seahorse*

      I had a job that could certainly be completed without overtime, but that was not in line with the company culture. Overtime was rarely “officially approved,” but I was heavily pressured by my boss and his peers to work through lunch. Of course, going home early was never an option.

      I had to come in early for a staff wide meeting one a week and still had to stay to 5:00 those days. Yet, when I left at 5:00, I got snide comments. If I stayed late, I was openly met with approval. So, between the early meeting, two or three work-through-lunches a week, and couple days of staying to 5:30, I never clocked less than 45 hours a week.

      My boss occasionally complained about the allegedly unapproved overtime, but honestly, working exactly 40 hours met with far more disapproval. Cost/benefit analysis said I was *more* likely to keep getting my paycheck if I kept doing the unsanctioned OT. So I did.

      1. HonorBox*

        A lot of it does depend on culture. But I think following the letter of the … letter … we should assume that unapproved OT isn’t allowed actually means that. And that’s why I think it is important to hear people out when having the conversation. If workload is such that they CANNOT finish all that is required, or if the culture is such that people feel like you did and don’t want to get snide comments, then there’s a different solution to this particular equation. But if the situation is that LW is getting pressure to curtail OT, asking people to actually get approval might help solve the problem more reasonably… be that with additional hires, etc.

  13. I'm just here for the cats!*

    One thing I would add forLW1 is that the last day of the pay period make sure people are not staying late, and check to make sure they didn’t start early. If they start early, they go home early. and if your job has tiered shifts, where maybe some people work later than other, loop in other managers so that if they see one of your team working late they can send them home. I can see people trying to sneak in hours at the end of the pay period so that there is no way to make the employee work less later, because that will be on a different pay period.
    But really, this is a symptom of something else. Either they don’t think you mind or think they can pull one over or something else. I honestly think you need to have a chat with them and point out that they are basically stealing from the company because they have not been approved overtime.

    1. Southern Girl*

      And let employees know that if they do that their hours will be cut the next PP to make up the difference.

  14. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I have had multiple bosses address the problem of people working unauthorized OT after explicitly being instructed not to by firing the people who did it. It’s clear cut insubordination. Give a written warning stating what is being instructed (no overtime without prior written authorization) and the consequences of next offense (termination). It can actually be easier to enforce stuff like this, because it’s objective and trackable – there can be no rules-lawyering or quibbling over semantics when the clock punches add up to more than 40 hours, and the prior authorization either exists or it doesn’t.

  15. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    OP: If your team is taking more overtime than before, has their workload risen, or manpower fallen e.g. someone on maternity leave or FMLA?

    However, even if overtime is necessary. they still need your prior authorisation, which they seem to be ignoring.
    Inform all your team that from now on any unauthorised overtime will immediately receive a formal warning, documented with HR and then any further occurence will result in a PIP. (Of course, agree this with your own manager and HR in advance)
    Also state that deliberately working more slowly will also result in a PIP – so make sure you have realistic metrics for what each team member must produce.

  16. Trout 'Waver*

    Honestly, in regards to the last one, I’ve had it so engrained into me not to contact people out on leave, and especially maternity leave, that I’d loop in HR to make sure I was doing it correctly. Unless I was absolutely certain from my personal relationship with that person that they’d appreciate me reaching out directly.

    1. HonorBox*

      The thing about this is that the letter isn’t reaching out with expectation of the employees doing work or with the expectation of a reply. I’ve been careful not to reach out to employees on maternity leave with work-related things, but texting to find out how the baby is or to wish them well is completely OK.

  17. ijustworkhere*

    Re: alcohol culture–I would simply say what Allison suggested.

    From my own experience: just be sure you are being accurate about the actual culture around the alcohol. I worked in a place once where I was told–we occasionally celebrate wins with some afternoon champagne, and do occasional happy hours but both are totally optional—but they really weren’t. I was constantly questioned about why I wasn’t drinking the champagne, the happy hours were 2-3 times a week, and people like me who drank soda or water were frequently questioned or encouraged to drink–“oh come on, you can’t drink just one? Now I feel self conscious, you don’t want to make me feel self conscious do you?” kind of talk. (note: I never commented on anyone’s drinking, I went to happy hours, and I am considered to be quite relaxed and fun by most).

    It was hugely annoying, and yet the boss did not see any of that as problematic. I’m pretty adept at handling those situations, but it was exhausting and inappropriate and should not have happened.

  18. Chad H*

    I wonder if LW 1 is focusing on the right problem. Is the problem unauthorised overtime or too much work for standard time?

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      If people just keep working unauthorized overtime, you will never actually get that answer because you won’t know what is actually reasonable to complete within regular time.

      Oh, the stories I could tell on this one.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Even if the overtime is necessary, it must be authorised first by the OP. Otherwise it can destroy budget planning – and probaby get the OP into trouble.

      1. NotOliviaRodrigo*

        Then what OP should do is be a good leader, advocate for their employees, and demand more money allocated to their team. If multiple hourly workers won’t stop doing OT after being told by their manager to stop, it is very likely choosing the option will yield even worse repercussions (be it getting fired for supposedly poor performance or not having enough money to support their family).

        For a community that often acts to be pro-workers, it’s ludicrous the way some people casually tell OP to start firing people (!). What this shows is people who are in management (or who don’t see being hourly workers as something in their future) are just good at seeing which way the wind is blowing but has no intention of genuinely making things better for regular people.

        1. Norah*

          Not every manager can just demand, let alone obtain, more money for their employees.

          The letter isn’t complicated. Employees are ignoring a straightforward directive. Doing so has consequences, up to potential firing, since working unauthorized OT is theft.

          That’s it.

        2. elelel*

          I think you’re approaching this through a lens that is a bit narrow. It is very common in some industries for workers to desire overtime (that isn’t necessarily needed). I’ve only ever been the worker in that situation, never management, so I’m not some management shill. The pay difference between regular pay and overtime pay is huge, and, while I never deliberately worked slowly, some of my coworkers would, and we would all volunteer if given the chance.

  19. Verde*

    I can’t not pay someone for not filling out their time sheet. I can’t not pay someone for working OT without permission. But I can fire them for it! I’ve literally said just that at staff meetings, it sure gets people’s attention.

    That being said, reminding people that all of the above is part of their job, consistently and to the point of adding an admin clause into all job descriptions, helps a lot, too.

  20. DJ*

    LW#1 I’d certainly be investigating if there is a workload issue first!
    LW#2 with the dog culture I’d be wondering what if someone had a phobia or allergy to dogs

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Even if there is a workload issue, the first step is that people must request permission to do the OT.
      If it is refused and the work is not completed, then the OP should examine the workload, assess reasonable metrics for what each person can achieve – and see if these match up.

      It sound like the OP suspects that the few people – and she says it’s only a few – who keep working unapproved OT just want the money and are not accepting her authority to control this;
      “it’s been over a year and the staff are still having a hard time with this”

  21. Zona the Great*

    I worked with a guy who was a very low performer and was on a PIP. He was hourly. He thought the way out of his PIP was to secretly come in on Saturdays and try to catch up. The problem was not that he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the work but with the work itself. The Saturdays were not only not helping but were putting the agency at risk by not paying him for those hours. Our boss found out not soon enough and wasn’t strong enough to shut it down. He wasn’t doing it for the OT but he didn’t understand that it was illegal for the agency not to pay him, even if they didn’t know he was doing it.

  22. BlueCactus*

    I was an employee under someone in a similar situation to LW1 (previously a peer who moved into management who then had a lot of issues with overtime), and in our situation it was 100% due to unrealistic workload. I was very proactive about telling her when my workload was too much to complete in 40 hours and asking about either overtime or what she wanted me to prioritize. She labelled me as a problem because what she was looking for was people to either pull off miracles or to do work off the clock (which is what most people did).

    If this is part of the problem (and assuming LW1 is, unlike my former manager, not trying to use wage theft to make the team look hyper-efficient), then LW1 should take a good look at the workload and try to address it either by advocating for more hires or by reassigning or deprioritizing less essential tasks. If it seems like someone is abusing overtime to do non-essential things, that’s clearly a different problem, but in general I think a combination of having clear expectations regarding overtime authorization and a method for prioritizing and reassigning tasks would go a long way to resolving this in many teams.

  23. Lusara*

    I find all the comments that letter 1 is a workload issue to be interesting, because that was the last thing I would think of. When I hear people are working OT after they have been explicitly told not to, I’m thinking they are simply choosing to stay longer to get the extra cash. I’m thinking of thinks with ongoing projects like software development, where it’s 200 hours or whatever, so you can stop at 8 hours or stay and do another hour.

    And if it is a workload issue and the people really don’t want to work OT, then why aren’t they just going home and leaving things undone? My response in that situation has always been “Boss, you gave me 50 hours of work to do and I only have 40 hours to do it, so what do you want to not get done?”

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      The OP also seems to suspect they are working unnecessary OT for the extra pay.
      If someone finds their workload too high to complete within normal hours, the obvious thing to do is to request OT, not do it without permission.

    2. BlueCactus*

      I think you’re right that a lot of it depends on context, but this can definitely happen, especially if you have a lot of time-sensitive tasks that aren’t predictable. When this was happening in my team at a previous job, the work also had to get done – it was just whether you were going to do it or if it was going to get bounced to one of the salaried professionals (who did not enjoy having to do extra work). So there was a lot of pressure to get everything done, but OT wasn’t being approved. So you either dropped the ball, worked unauthorized OT, or worked off the clock. I usually dropped the ball (with lots of advance notice that stuff wasn’t going to get done) which I only got away with because I was a very high performer and my manager couldn’t get rid of me since we were wildly understaffed.

      (This was, obviously, a very dysfunctional workplace.)

    3. H*

      I think your last paragraph oversimplifies things a bit. Common rhetoric on addressing workload seems to have a built-in assumption that managers will just accept employees only working up to their 40 hours and will deal with the consequences of the work that doesn’t get done professionally.

      In reality, many managers I’ve worked with simply blame staff for being unproductive/inefficient and do nothing to actually investigate whether there’s too much work or not. They’re often more willing to believe all 10 of their team members (and all their predecessors too) are lazy and incompetent in the exact same way rather than there being a workload issue.

      Also, in many jobs functional responsibility for tasks doesn’t sit with managers. If you hold all the relationships with clients who don’t know your manager exists, you’re often being asked to pick between working hours above what you’re paid or obliterate your reputation in the industry or worse, like in the medical field, people people in serious harm’s way.

      I don’t live in the US and there’s not an obligation for employers to pay unauthorised overtime here, but the implication that it’s the employees’ fault for just leaving things undone is quite under-considered.

  24. Semi-retired admin*

    Re: unauthorized overtime…I have to wonder if the LW did this kind of thing before being promoted to a supervisory position? If so, they need to address that with their former peers/current subordinates in a way that won’t be perceived as hypocritical. Things that used be “us against them” are hard to navigate when you become one of “them”.

    1. Tiger Snake*

      I would agree that’s a possibility. If LW#1 was a big offender, that possibly even has the unfortunate side-affect of now it looks like working overtime gets recognised and rewarded through promotion, but that part’s a speculation.

      I will say I was initially surprised that someone internally promoted didn’t have more a finger on the pulse for the root cause. I suppose its possible its just not something LW#1 had noticed before taking on more responsibilities, but the “Why” still seems important since its only a few people in particular.

      Is it about extra money, about the work volume, or is it actually about them not respecting LW#1 as their manager? LW#1 seems to both hint at and then dismiss option 3, but doesn’t give us a clear answer on the other two. I suppose you could put them onto a PIP (because if they’re working overtime, they’re not managing their work correctly and aren’t performing well) but it’s hard to say that’s the right call to make without knowing why.

  25. Luanne Platter*

    Question, how does any work get done in a pet-friendly office?

    I’ve only ever worked in distribution/manufacturing environments, not an actual office, so maybe I just don’t get it. But assuming the pet is a dog- doesn’t it need walked, fed, out to the bathroom, played with? What happens if the dog gets hurt, sick, or in a fight at the office? Barks during a major meeting or call? It feels like so much of the work day would be spent taking care of the pets. This seems like a bad policy not only from the allergy/phobia front, but from a “lets get stuff done” perspective, too.

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