Saturday, March 5, 2011

A new form of slavery?

I recently had a chance to study the Fair Standard Labor Act (of FSLA as it is commonly called). Here is a quote from the web page:

"The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is the Federal law, sometimes called the overtime law insures that wages are paid for all hours worked and that all overtime hours, overtime pay and collected unpaid overtime due is paid to wage earners."

Like most laws, there are many different aspects to it. I won't bore you with the details, though I will give a few examples.

Let's say you live 5 miles from where you work. Let's also say that it takes you 10 minutes to get there.
Now, to make things interesting, you are assigned to go to a training class which is 55 miles away and it will take you an hour and a half to get there.

As I understand the law, you would have to get paid whatever time it takes you to get there, minus the time it normally takes you to get to work. So in this example, it would be 90 minutes, minus 10, equaling 80 minutes. Yes, you would be paid 80 minutes of travel time.

And for the mileage? It's the same concept: the miles you travel to get to the training (55) minus the normal miles (5) for a total of 50 miles. Most companies pay a set rate per mile for employees when using their own car.

And that's not all. If you work more than 40 hours in a week, you have to get paid overtime for that week. You can't shave off the time the following week, even if it is in the same pay period, to make up the difference.

And the government is serious about these rules. When I worked at a certain grocery store in college, a memo was sent out that workers had to be assigned more work than they could do during their shifts so that they would stay busy, but no one was allowed to get overtime. So many of the workers, fearing to get in trouble, would clock out when their shift was done, but would stay to finish their work, off the clock. Yes, this made the press later, and a lawsuit was filed. I was contacted to see how much time I worked off the clock, so I could get part of the settlement. How much did I get? None. I refused to work off the clock--though sometimes I would get in trouble for not finishing all my work.

And then there was the manager at a certain fast food restaurant I worked at in high school. His method of "encouraging" the employees to finish for the night was to clock them out when their shift should have been done and then have them work on their own time until the job was done. He tried that exactly once on me--a night when we were down two people. The moment he clocked me out, I dropped the broom on the ground, took off my apron and left the building. The next day, I came to work, with the manager and general manager there to talk to me. Long story, short: that manager never clocked people out again.

There is one major exception to the FSLA. It is a term I've come to hate. It is "exempt employee"--meaning you don't get paid by the hour, but rather, you get paid a salary. All those FSLA rules don't apply to exempt employees--and many employers know this and abuse it.

I've heard on more than one occasion that once you become "exempt", the company basically owns you. They can make you work as many hours as they want--demand that you are on call 24 /7 and there is nothing you can do about it--unless you quit, and who in their right mind would quit a job when 1 out of 10 people are out of work?

Is it just me, or does being an exempt employee sound a lot like slavery?


  1. Just one more example of an irony lost on the main stream media. Our first black President is not only re-enslaving blacks, but is taking it several steps further by enslaving all living Americans and their posterity for several generations to come.


  2. That is one of the best ways to tell whether you have a bad boss or work for a bad company. Salaried professionals are given more flexibility when they get their average of 40 hrs per week in. Sometimes it may be 50 in a week but then others it may be 30, and nobody should bat an eye when you leave early because you're done with your work. Employers who work you like a slave deserve to only have employees who are dumb enough to allow themselves to be "owned."

  3. Here's a somewhat related anecdote from my work history. When I accepted a professional salaried position at a large financial institution, I worked very hard to learn everything I could about my position, my department, the company, the business, and the technology we used to get the job done. As a result, I became very effective and efficient at my job. From time to time I would end up putting in more than 40 hours per week, especially when "emergencies" would crop up at 4:45p EVERY Friday. As a result, I started leaving at 4:40p. Suddenly, the "emergencies" started cropping up earlier in the day on Friday. Weird, I know.
    After about two years into that job, the company joined the outsourcing bandwagon and my job was eventually targeted. I didn't really have a problem with that, though, because I went on to more strategic work that mostly occurred during the hours of 9a-5p instead of the constant barrage of tough technical challenges and troubleshooting off hours, from a mobile phone, at restaurants, whatever, of my previous job. As I'm sure you've heard, a company outsources jobs primarily for two reasons: flexibility (it's easier to tell a vendor that you no longer need as many "resources" than to actually lay off your own employees) and cost savings (common amounts quoted in the industry at the time were that an IT worker in India would make about 14% of what somebody doing the same job in the US would). Even with the additional overhead required to move the job overseas and the technological expenses to enable it, the company SHOULD still come out way ahead, right? Well, at last count, the company to which my job was outsourced had twelve (12) people dedicated solely to the function, dedicated to the exact same set of applications, that I was handling by myself. I have nothing against Indian IT workers, nor do I have anything against my bosses in the US who made that initial decision. I do think it's hilariously short-sighted and poorly managed to pay AT LEAST twice as much (more likely about 4 or 5 times as much with overhead and technology costs) to employ a dozen people in a foreign country to do the same exact job that one person in the US was doing.