Overtime: Paying for abuse

The work world's turning upside down, as some corporate employers, especially in the financial sector, realize they can't demand that hourly staff work overtime without pay.

The site www.unpaidovertime.ca provides a definition of "unpaid overtime" in Canada and updates pending cases pending against two major banks and a railway corporation.

In August 2008, the suit against accounting giant KPMG was settled, according to this report retrieved from www.hrthoughtleader.com:

"On August 7, 2008, the $50-million overtime class-action suit against KPMG was settled. The settlement was approved by the court and it is expected to cost KPMG as much as $10-million.

Justice Paul Perrell of the Ontario Superior Court approved the proposed KPMG settlement which uses the KPMG overtime redress plan process. The settlement approval can be accessed at www.orpinfo.ca.

...According to Jim Middlemiss of the National Post, now all eyes turn to the CIBC, Scotiabank and CN Railway Co., overtime class actions being run by Douglas Elliot of Roy Elliott O'Connor and the labour law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell.

CIBC has filed reams of legal materials disputing the allegations against it and the other organizations have also denied that they owe staff any money."

In most corporations, management level jobs are traditionally exempt from overtime-pay policies.

The logic in many companies I work with is, "You're a manager. You will work whatever hours it takes to achieve success in your unit, for which you'll receive a bonus at the end of the year. Or, if we declare we're in a recession, no bonus. But the long hours remain. Oh, and because we've had layoffs, forget about that vacation. You might be able to fit in the occasional long weekend."

I've always found the logic that managers should work long hours just because of the role without direct compensation a feeble, morally bankrupt rationale. After all, a manager is still a worker. And I don't think that ownership (via owning stock in publicly-traded companies) carries with it the imperative that you will now routinely work ten to fourteen hour days.

In one company, a middle manager rises at 4 am to get to her desk by 6 am. so that she can do both her job and that of another manager who was downsized this year. She might get home by 8 pm. She is a single mother terrified of losing her job.

Overtime abuse rarely exists in isolation from other poor employee relations practices. A friend who works for one of the world's largest corporations took over the job of a vice president felled by illness and now on long term disability. When she asked to be named to the role in an acting capacity, after eight months (and two previous year-long stints doing the job while the incumbent was on maternity leaves) she was told, "We have a freeze on promotions." Yet other promotions were announced.

Do typical management-level benefits (stock options, club memberships, cars) provide a fair exchange against the loss of the finite hours and minutes of a life? Aside from emergencies or unusual occurrences, shouldn't an employer expect a manager to work a normal week?




11 comments

WendyB said...

I wish I could get overtime right now, but considering I can't even afford to pay myself minimum wage, I guess I'm screwed.

Deja Pseu said...

Been there, done that. I remember back in the 80's when everyone was trying to emulate the workaholic culture of corporate Japan. I worked at a couple of different companies where it seemed that you showed loyalty by the number of hours your butt was glued to your chair (regardless of whether there was actually that much work to do). People would give you the stink eye if you left before 7pm. I tend to be a fast worker and use my time well, and resented those expectations like hell.

I now work for a company that for years prided itself on running "lean and mean" (staffing was lean, we all were mean from stress and overwork). 10-12 hour days were just expected. Over time, they've learned that there's value in holding on to trained workers rather than burning them out, and that having enough staff to (usually) get the work done in 8 hours is good for the bottom line, due to fewer costly errors.

Duchesse said...

Wendy: One of the benefits of being self-employed is that we can work mega hours, if that's what we require of ourselves.

Pseu: I am seeing "the economy" used in several (not all) one organization I work with now to justify exploitation b/c employers know people are scared and not looking elsewhere.

kmkat said...

I believe there is another lawsuit similar to the one against KPMG pending in California. As an accountant who works for another of the Big Four, I am watching this with interest.

Also, accounting firms -- in the US, at least -- cannot be stock companies, so there is no ownership-in-the-company as a reward for good work. Not until one has been there at least 10 years and succeeds in becoming a partner, which has become increasingly difficult (=almost impossible) in the past decade.

La Belette Rouge said...

He-weasel is on the 12 hour day program with some weekends. The worse the economy gets the more he works. I on the other hand work two hours a week. I guess we balance each other out.

Duchesse said...

Belette: IMO. if the tasks are draining, that schedule is only doable for a while before burnout. "A while" is, for some, a few years, for me it was less than a year. I missed my family, I missed sleep and I did not like the person I was becoming.

Duchesse said...

kmkat: As I understand it the bonus is the pre-partnership carrot in accounting. It's always amazed me how companies think this is justification for the demands (not requests) on hours.

greying pixie said...

I was also part of the corporate boom in the mid 80s when I worked in London for an American investment bank which shall, for now, remain nameless. I was in the my mid 20s, single and willing to work 12 hours a day, often socialising with my colleagues afterwards. But that was then.

To call a man or woman a manager seems to be rather a misnomer if they are expected to be present, at their desk, showing the beads of sweat. In my opinion by definition a professional is some one mature and capable enough to manage their time as they see fit to get the work done. If that means working from home say one or two days a week, then so be it.

I've been lucky enough to work in the University sector for the past 10 years where we are still regarded as individuals and encouraged to forge our own paths. But slowly slowly I can see the corporate monster looming as yet another protocol is introduced. I refuse to go to meetings now where we are forced to stand and limber up before work! What an insult!

WendyB said...

That's a BENEFIT?!
;-)

Rita@Goldivas said...

I've learned over the years that I cannot keep up with a lot of extra hours for very long before productivity goes way down as mistakes set in. And, although there is a wide range of ability to do this, most people in workaholic mode are kidding themselves. I did once work for a company that paid exempt employees OT after they worked the first 10 hours over in a quarter. That was a nice compromise.

Duchesse said...

Rita: given a 7.5-hour day, in a year, people in that company contributed 40 unpaid hours- just over a week. What would happen if people had been asked to write the company a check for a weeks' salary? Because they did.