Exempt: That Word Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

by Evil HR Lady on April 16, 2016

An employer notes exact times of leaving the office. However, the supervisor is gone 2 hours before I am gone. The only way I think this supervisor knows If I leave 10 minutes early by the cameras located in the hallway I am located in. Is this legal without the employee’s knowledge?

Actually, everyone leaves the corridor at around 3:30 to 4:00pm daily. I am the only one left and yes I have left sometimes 10-15 minutes earlier than my shift ends which is at 5:30, but my supervisor asked that I take leave for the time I left early, which I declined because on my I am “EXEMPT.” She then docked 1.75 hours of annual leave. Can she do this?

Yep. She absolutely can. You were taking time off. And employees have zero expectation of privacy at the office. Although, I doubt that your supervisor is reviewing the security footage every night in the hopes of catching you leave early.

Now, let’s talk about the shoulds here and what I suspect is really going on. Everyone else leaves by 4:00 and you’re supposed to be there until 5:30. I’m guessing this is because your boss needs to have someone at the office until 5:30 and it’s you. That’s your job.

Being exempt doesn’t mean you aren’t subject to schedules. Think about it from the view of a grocery store manager. A manager always has to be on staff so of course you have to schedule. One manager can’t just say, “Hey, I’m exempt! I’m leaving!” She has to get someone to cover for her.

Now, your supervisor gets a gold star for not attempting to dock your pay, as that is illegal. She may or may not get a gold star for getting mad at you for leaving 15 minutes early from time to time. That depends on several things–if coverage is important, if you’re a high performer, if you are regularly working less than the expected amount, and if she’s talked to you about this before. Legally, none of this matters. A boss can determine working hours, even for an exempt employee. But, if you are a high performer and coverage isn’t critical, then your boss is a weenie. Yes, she’s a weenie even if you regularly put in less than 40 hours as long as you’re accomplishing everything at a very high level.

Now, of course, if you are regularly finishing your work long before 40 hours is up, you need to report this to your boss along with a list of suggestions for how you can expand your role.

So, what should you do? Apologize to your boss. Work the hours that she expects you to work, and if you need to leave early some day, ask her permission. No, I don’t think managers should have their vacation time docked for leaving 15 minutes early, but since you were trying to sneak out, that makes a difference.

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