Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nine to Five

Years ago I had a job with a contract IT job shop and occasionally they would hit employees up to work on a Saturday. Our first question would be "Overtime?" and then the employer would say "well we have you listed as exempt so technically we don't have to pay you overtime", at which point we would "well then we're technically not going to show up". After finding that they were unable to find a sufficient number of suckers, the business would relent and offer overtime to anyone who came in. The fact that they even tried to screw us out of pay cheesed me off, it's not like the shop wasn't charging the customer an exorbitant rate for off hours work so I'm sure the whole situation was caused by a manager who got bonus dollar signs in his eyes.

But...did they have to pay us overtime? I don't know.

I do know that at the time I was jealous of those who had a true full time job at a dedicated employer, instead of a job at a contracting shop whose main point of existence was screwing customers out of barrels of cash. Typically part of having one of those coveted dedicated positions is a willingness to provide support to the business at all hours as part of your salary. To me that was, and still is, an acceptable trade off for such a job.

Oddly enough, at least to me, not everyone takes the same position. Redmond Magazine profiles one John Paul Myszczenko who held (holds?) some type of help desk position* at the nefarious AIG. After providing a year or two of off hours support, Myszczenko discovered that he was non-exempt and after pressing his employer, got back pay for himself and various other employees. But what makes an employee "salary, non-exempt" and what makes one "salary, exempt"? When does the employer have to pay overtime? Well at least when it comes to 'help desk' positions the Department of Labor ruled:

The DOL ruled that IT support specialists and help desk workers do not qualify for either the "administrative" or "computer professionals" exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The DOL determined that the IT position is not exempt from overtime and minimum wage requirements because the position, which requires only a high school diploma, does not require the discretion and independent judgment necessary to qualify for the administrative exemption and lacks the development and analysis skills necessary for the computer professional exemption.
I've read that several times, and at least from this IT guy's perspective, that doesn't make a lick of sense. The world of hard barriers between management and 'hourly' has gone by the wayside. I guess I could see where it might apply to some hyper-conglomerate like AIG, but for most businesses, especially with those who bring in under the $100 million a year it's a typical kludgy government fit.

I know that the reason these regulations exist is because of abuses by businesses in the (way) past. As well, this type of nonsense may make sense for other fields, but for IT pros either the compensation is sufficient for the job you are doing, or it isn't and you can go somewhere else.

On one last note, I recall one business's solution to this situation (sorry no link). When faced with outrageous overtime costs for what is, let's be honest, an relatively easy job, this business cut the salary for non-exempt employees by 20% and told them to make up the difference with overtime. Generally, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

* I wish it weren't so, but help desk postions as they are strictly defined are the bottom rung in the IT field. Someone has to be at the bottom (not me, I've never had a help desk job) but IT's bottom is better than the 'top' in a lot of fields.


John-Paul Myszczenko said...

Allow me to introduce myself...this IS "John-Paul Myszczenko" in the aformentioned article ( - in case you decide to get your facts straight first before publishing yet MORE BS)

I'm going to address your ridiculous comments one by one....

First and foremost, this comment (in coinsicdentally SMALL subscript at the bottom fo the article): "Someone has to be at the bottom (not me, I've never had a help desk job) but IT's bottom is better than the 'top' in a lot of fields." - Dude, if you've NEVER had a Help Desk job then what is your basis for making any kind fo comment regarding the position, its requirements or what it pays???? You've basically admitted, after talking all kinds of smack about my achievement, that you are full of "it".

"After providing a year or two of off hours support, Myszczenko discovered that he was non-exempt and after pressing his employer, got back pay for himself and various other employees." - If you'd taken the tie to even read the damned article CORRECTLY, the beginning story opens be detailing that after hours support was ABOUT to be implemented....we hadn't already been doing it for 1-2 years.

Lastly, if you'd also bothere dto so ANY research of your own about the DOL law, you'd also find the part that says even CEO's making millions a year are sometimes entitled to overtime!!

So in your tiny, uneducated world...its perfectly acceptable to make people work 24 hours a day for a set salary without additional compensation?? That's called a "sweat shop" jack ass, and its illegal for a reason!

I hate these uninformed opinions and bloggers who insist on talking smack about a topic they're completely unfamiliar with.

Evil Sandmich said...

My original thought was along different lines which I think I edited out for brevities sake.

When I was a contractor and had a more 'help deskie' type of job I was very clearly paid an hourly rate though I was listed as 'exempt' by my workplace. At one point during this time I had to help the business to which I was assigned with their disaster recovery testing and this involved a substantial amount of overtime working quite late into the night. I was sure to secure myself overtime pay as I wasn't paid a premium for that type of work; in other words I could have very easily found another job that paid the same that didn’t require occasionally eighteen hour days. My coworkers who worked for the business in question though didn’t make overtime and weren’t in a place to demand it because there wasn’t a chance of them picking up a job that paid the same without some expectation of off-hours support.

I’ll go at this a different way as well. Around the same time I had a part time job providing off-hours support at a local hospital, so my take home pay was full time pay + part time pay. Eventually they had the full time employees at the hospital cover the off hours, but again, their full time pay was already “full time pay + part time pay”. The price for their labor had been set and if they didn’t care for the price that had been set they were free to pursue other opportunities (which some did).

Myself? As I said, I prefer the job that pays “full time pay + part time pay” and expects some overtime work (of course commensurate with whatever the ‘part time’ pay premium is). As I fudged saying originally, the workaround for some businesses is to cut the full time pay rate to just “full time” rather than “full time pay + part time pay” which is probably result that employees would generally dislike, but to each his own.

And along those lines, I‘d like to apologize Mr. Myszczenko if I misunderstood your situation and it is quite possible that the position that you found yourself in doesn’t in anyway correspond to the instances I cite above. I should have known that it would be impossible to divine the exact circumstances from an abbreviated article and I’m sorry that I tried.