The overtime octopus and layoff update

Overtime continues to concern me. Like an octopus, the tentacles of both paid and unpaid overtime continue to twist around employees' lives, and the topic persists as public debate through some high-profile lawsuits.

Overtime and unpaid work

Last month, the Ontario Superior Court dismissed a $600-million class action suit against one of Canada's biggest banks (CIBC), saying that the case did not meet the test to be a class-action lawsuit. Dara Fresco and her attorneys will appeal by the end of August. Fresco was joined by hundreds of bank branch employees who protested unpaid overtime.

In the meantime, I received an e-mail from Matthew, who lost his job in July. He's one of
a dozen friends and colleagues chopped from a giant telecom's Canadian head office in the last month. Just back from a family canoe trip, he wrote: "This is the first vacation in 12 years that I have not taken with a pager on my belt, and it felt fantastic."

Shortly after his note, Michael Sanserino's August 10 article in
The Globe and Mail caught my eye: "Two recent lawsuits (T-Mobile USA and CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.) raise a question that many employees and employers have deliberated: Should hourly workers be paid for time spent responding to work calls or e-mails while off the clock?"

Matthew was a manager, so continual off-hours calls were considered part of the job, because managers, though stock-ownership benefits, are considered "owners" of the company. Note, however, that Matthew's company did not pay bonuses to anyone at his level at the last year-end, nor are employee stock purchase plans available to this global company's Canadian workforce.

But, Sanserino observes, "... such disputes are growing as cheaper technology puts
pagers, smart phones or other devices in the hands of more workers."

In the Globe and Mail's August 12 "In Brief" column, Wallace Immen reports: "In the face of the global economic crisis, three-quarters of companies have taken steps to contain overtime costs, including freezes on overtime or setting a ceiling on pay, a (Conference Board of Canada) study of 130 organizations found. In addition, several unionized organizations are trying to renegotiate contracts to reduce the premium paid for overtime work."

When paid overtime costs are being scrutinized, the temptation for managers at all levels to ask people to work unpaid overtime becomes even greater.

People left in the corporate lifeboat are working ever harder, with fewer boundaries between work and personal life. Whether employee or contract worker, manager or hourly worker, unpaid overtime is gaining traction as fear keeps people in line and silent.

Even in companies who pay for overtime, is a routine workload of undesired extra hours any way to live?

From overtime to no time: What happens to those downsized?

Matthew, a 42-year-old IT professional, is making a career change. In September, he will return to university as a mature student to pursue a divinity degree, following in his father's footsteps.

Update on other downsized friends:

- C., 51, a lawyer who specializes in corporate governance: lost senior executive job at a bank in January, was hired by another bank as a contractor in March
; hoping to be offered a full time position there.

- J., 45, who lost her sales job in January: unemployed, and received word that an entrepreneurial venture she was hoping to partially fund with a government grant was declined; she's cut her expenses by sharing her home and wants to pursue her avocation, guitar-building.

- M., 55, who lost her job at a non-profit in January: unemployed; over 25 applications have not yielded one interview. She is planning to revive her freelance training business, though would prefer working for an organization.

If you find my update on the 50+ job-seeker's front dispiriting, Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream" is even bleaker. She presents a version of her real self, a 50+ communications professional searching for a corporate PR/Communications job, and chronicles her trek through job fairs, career counselors, online job boards and image advisors (one of the better experiences).

You can see heartbreak and rejection coming a mile away, but it the unremitting dead ends and unethical scams she reports made me squirm nonetheless.


Susan B said…
California has very strict employement laws concerning hourly employees, and we've actually had to tell staff that they are NOT to work when they are clocked out. Those of us in management, anything goes. I carry a Blackberry, and do check it on vacations. Last year when we were in Paris, DH had to get up at two in the morning for a conference call to resolve a crisis at his job.

Someone I work with, who has also been with our company for 16 years and was at an executive level was let go on Friday, with no warning and very little severance pay, despite good reviews. He is a smart guy and hard worker, and was told his department was being restructured. We wonder if our turn is coming.
Tiffany said…
Excellent post. My husband used to work in government and there was simply no such thing as down time. The faxes started coming in (at home) at 5am, and the Blackberry was going at all hours, 7 days a week. His salary in no way compensated.

I've noticed that in my area (finance) the younger people (generally those without children) will work ridiculous hours to gain kudos - then those who prefer some division between work and the rest of life are seen as slackers. It's really insidious and ugly.
materfamilias said…
Pater is in a senior position so no overtime and lots of Blackberry -- part of why we go to Europe for a complete break. Otherwise weekends he's always e-mailing or making calls for several hours. And through the teaching year, my hours include evenings and weekends, and through the non-teaching year, research possibilities never stop. That said, both of us are salaried and are relatively insulated from layoffs, so I generally feel lucky to have workload creep to complain about. Overall, we've had many lucky decades, and I cross my fingers that my kids will have half as good fortune.
mette said…
For some years now, my husband has been a private entrepreneur, and I´m sure you all know what that means. No vacation time ( our last vacation was in 1994 ). I admit that I´m a bit bored with this situation. His each work day is different, which means that I have to hold a routine here at home. My younger daughter still lives at home. Dogs and horses must be fed on a regular schedule. I know, I know, I should be happy that there is work, as there is unemployment all around, but I´m tired of the hassle too.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: 16 years and "little severance"- hope he is seeing a lawyer. Of course this would shock the reset of you.

tiffany: YOu said it better than I! Thank

materfamilias: I once learned the expression, "If it's not my time, whose is it?" If the answer is "my employer's", regardless of sctor,. I believe people should be paid or given compensatory time off, simple as that.

Entrepreneurs are in a different catogeory, investing their time in the enterprise they own. Their "deal" is differnt than the employee's. And long hours, risk, high responsibility are typical. Takes a special kind of person and talent to be one.
Duchesse said…
oops, last comments was for metscan.
Belle de Ville said…
1. Large corporations benefit by economic downturns because they "reorganize" and lay off their mature workers and replace them with younger, less expensive personnel. Meanwhile, the funds available for compensation are concentrated at the top and dispensed as executive bonuses, as in this year's Citigroups bonus payout.
In my opinion, anyone over 45 in a corporate job is at huge risk of being laid off, and let's face it, institutionalized age discrimination is rampant and that person may NEVER get another corporate job.
One of my dearest friends has been out of work for over 2 years. It is heartbreaking.
2. It's one thing to be "on call" by blackberry or email if you are in an executive position that is essential to the operation of the business. It is another thing to see people so tied up to their jobs that they put up with being tethered to their employers 24-7 without additional compensation.
It always amazes me, especially after my vacation, that pretty much the whole of Europe is on vacation during the month of August and business doesn't come to an end. Thirty days off a year is the minimum in France and Spain.
Last year I worked for over 12 months, always over 40 hours a week, without taking a day off, and I often worked at nights and on weekends, not to mention the BHB blog...for no additional compensation. OK, so I do love the process of building the Beladora business, but after three years of this kind of work schedule, I would like to be able to disengage more often...or get paid more.
Shelley said…
In Britain there is a 37.5 hour work week and people in senior positions get 6 weeks holiday. If one becomes ill, the first 6 months off work is on full pay, the 2nd 6 months at half pay. Business doesn't stop exactly in August, but not a lot gets done if it requires collaboration. All that said, one is paid for 37.5 hours however most senior professionals take pride in complaining about how much over time they put in. I'm very pleased to be done with it. I now carry a mobile phone -- which I turn on when I wish to make a phone call.
Duchesse said…
Belle: You are a perspicacious woman. I think a lot of this downsizing is exploitation and it stirs my old, Dad-supplied radical genes. As tiffany said, insidious and ugly.

Are you an entrepreneur, Belle? I understand the sacrifices entrepreneurs make, they sometimes working themselves into the ground building a business. And some expect employees to do the same.

Shelley: Canada (where I live) and the UK are ahead of the US on many employee benefits. Holiday time in Canada is close to the UKs- depends on sector.
Belle de Ville said…
I am CEO of, an entrepreneural internet estate jewelry business, thus my desire to work virtually every day.
I have a degree in economics and an MBA with a specialty in international business, and I am an economic conservative.
But....I am fully aware of the BS that large corporations get away with in terms of concentration of power, executive compensation, off shore tax schemes, cartel pricing, etc. and these businesses disgust me, especially knowing how middle and lower level employees are treated as interchangeable or even dispensable pawns while the senior executives are getting stock grants, use of the corporate jet and country club memberships.
Don't even get me started on the inequity in executive compensation, that is my pet peeve above all....
Rebecca said…
Washington also has strict overtime laws, but no longer requires time and a half for overtime under certain circumstances. I think it has to do with how many years you've been working in your field, but that makes no sense to me at all.

Wouldn't it be great to be like Europe and just close down for the month of August?
Duchesse said…
Rebecca: unfortunately more holidays would not necessarily end overtime abuse... but I sure could go for August off!

Belle: Thanks for more detail; I regularly visit the collection on, and admire your taste.
Leonard Okoth said…
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