Like most of your legions of fans, I was hoping for some advice. Review season is upon us at my anonymous law firm. I work for a section head and an associate. I have been with them for over a year and have implemented the following systems for them: customized daily news reports, notes from hearings they cannot cover, briefing memos on hot topics. I’ve learned the regulatory systems that apply to our area of practice, even though I am not directly responsible for the processes they involve for our office. No other assistant in my section is taking on these kinds of responsibilities for their people. Of course there is also the traditional assistant jazz- calendars, maintaining contact lists, expense reports, copies, saving them from their blackberries, etc. I love my job, the 2 attorneys I work with, and life is generally awesome, with my section head telling the higher ups in the firm that it is important I get a significant increase in pay.

Enter the new hr manager for our office. Apparently she has identified me as a “problem” employee because I’ve billed a significant amount of overtime to hone these skills over the past year (at the direction of the section head and previous hr manager). she’s only been present for the last 3 months or so, but she and her deputy have essentially intimated that I need to stop billing overtime. When I came to the firm, I was told that there were serious penalties for failing to do so as a non-exempt employee. I absolutely do not abuse this system. I document everything I do and have no problem standing behind my overtime. I think she may be trying to avoid talking to the section head because she’s heard he will tell her to go fly a kite. Now she’s coming by my desk at random times to check up on me, looking at my computer screen and noting the time if I am in the office late. It’s creating a pretty hostile environment and it’s causing me to be distracted from what’s important- aka my job and our clients. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that’s exactly what she is trying to do. Help! How do I build a bridge here? And do I have cause for complaint?

I’d really appreciate any consideration you can give on this one. It’s making me miserable.

Thank you, evil HR lady. You rule.
Faithful Worker Bee

Ahh, an annoying HR manager. Who knew they even existed? First of all, here is what she should have done.

HR Manager (to your boss): We’ve noticed that Faithful Worker Bee (Were your parents hippies? Just asking.)has been billing a lot of overtime. Is this authorized by you?
Your boss: Yes
HR Manager: Okay. Just keep in mind that you need to keep to your budget.

The end.

But, that’s not what has happened. First of all, you make sure you bill for every second you work. It is ILLEGAL to work off the clock if you are non-exempt, which you are. Do you understand that? Illegal. Your HR manager knows this.

She’s convinced you’re not working all the hours you’re billing. You know you are. Your boss knows you are. The HR manager isn’t in a position of authority over your boss or she would be taking this up with him, instead of annoying you.

The next time the HR Manager or her deputy peers over your shoulder. Stop what you are doing, turn around and ask brightly, “Can I help you?” She will sputter, “uh, no. Just wanted to see how you are doing.”

Then you can say, “I’ve noticed that you are concerned about the number of hours I put in. As you know, my boss, the section head, approves all my time cards. He and the associate I work for, set my responsibilities. If you are concerned about my work life balance, please know that I’m very happy with how things are right now. Otherwise, could you take this up with my boss? I’m afraid I don’t have the authority to change my workload. So, you’re taking your overtime concerns up with the wrong person.” Then turn around and go back to work.

Now, by making her very aware that you know what is going on, and making her aware that your boss is behind you, she can’t pretend she’s just casually checking up on all the employees.

When she appears again, turn around and say, “Can I help you?” Whatever her response is, just say, “If you are still concerned about my work-life balance, please talk to my supervisor. I am very happy with how things are.”

Please let your supervisor know that she is hovering and it’s affecting your effectiveness. She has some sort of agenda–not sure what it is–but she has one. It’s not your job to deal with her agenda. You just need to move her annoying behavior from you to your boss.

A couple things could happen. One, your boss could decide that her hassle is not worth it and you could get your overtime taken away. (That is, you wouldn’t be authorized to work any overtime. You MUST BILL FOR ALL TIME WORKED.) Or, he could make it quite clear that he will manage his own employees and his own budget, thank you very much, and she will slink away.

Just remain pleasant and cheerful with her. You could even throw in a few, “I appreciate you are concerned about mes” because if you keep it as a “work-life balance” thing, that’s good HR speak and HR people like good work-life balances. (OR we say we do. Boy, do I have some stories!) If you start getting into the cost of overtime that becomes a different discussion and much harder to win.

Good luck.

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10 thoughts on “Please Stop Annoying Me

  1. That sounds like a sensible suggestion.

    If your boss approves the overtime and is happy with your work, then the problem of the HR manager is not your problem.

    The suggestion to keep refering the issue to your boss makes sense to me. He is the person the manager should be talking to about this issue.

    I would also recommend that you discuss this with your boss and let him know what is happening. Don’t make a big deal of it – just make him aware that the problem exists.

    Good luck!



  2. To Faithful Worker Bee’s HR Manager: Way to go and make a bad name for us other HR Managers out there! Sheesh.

    This reminds me of the time (a company or two ago) a non-HR VP stormed into our payroll gal’s office and told her she needed to “do something” about all the overtime his newly assigned department was having. She calmly said “I am very sorry, but by the time it gets to me it’s too late. Not paying it is not an option”. He got red in the face and (I think) realized his mistake…that he should be talking to his line managers about the issue, not payroll.

  3. Yep, I’m surprised that this HR Manager would even want to take on the issue of your overtime. Personally, I could care less who is working overtime, as long as the manager approves it, it’s recorded properly, and we are paying it properly.

    Beyond that, overtime is the manager’s responsibility to ensure he/she is within budget, and that the overtime is justified. If there is a problem with overtime with individuals or departments, the HR Manager would/should be approaching the manager with her questions, not you.

    That’s no advice I know, just my spiel defending my profession. lol!

    In terms of my thoughts, just wondering how it was “intimated” that you stop working overtime? Did she actually say that to you personally? Did your manager tell you that “HR” says that you have to stop working overtime? You obviously have a lot of respect for your boss(es), but in my experience, sometimes managers use HR as a “scapegoat” for getting things in order in their department. ie. Dear Employee: You have to stop working so much overtime, because Evil HR Manager said so.

  4. OK, guys, I’ve just put on my curmudgeon hat. As I re-read FWB’s message, I found myself asking questions. What does “intimated to me” mean? Why was the message sent in coded form to FWB and not to the section chief? Why is HR involved in this at all? HR is staff and achieving budget targets is a line function, perhaps tied to the section manager’s bonus. And where is the section chief in all of this? Why hasn’t FWB spoken to him if he’s such a supporter?

    My instincts cry out “Something else is going on here!” “Faithful Worker Bee is not telling us everything!” In short, I think we have one very biased telling of what is a much more complex, and probably interesting, story.

    If the section chief were someone I’d trained, I’d want him to be aware of the issue because of regular contact with FWB, or, failing that, because FWB brought it to his attention. I would certainly expect him to talk to FWB about what’s going on. He’s not doing that and I want to know why.

  5. OK, so here’s a problem I see with all of this commentary. In many law firms, HR departments have responsibilities for office/administrative staff. In other words, just because the worker bee is doing work for the attorneys, the HR lady may be be worker bee’s actual supervisor. So, it may not be the attorney’s budget, it may be the HR manager’s budget. This is an oddity about professional service firms that most people don’t get and would change the dynamics of the outcome of this.

  6. Diane–Interesting information. If that is the case, then the HR manager is not only a bad HR manager, but a bad manager.

    If she is the direct supervisor, she should stop lurking and be direct. “No overtime is allowed. You must clock out at 5:00 and go home.” The work load issue should be taken up with the attorneys.

    By putting worker bee in the middle she is demonstrating incompetence.

  7. FWB here. I really appreciate you, Evil HR Lady, and the commenters here, who have given me some things to chew on. Wally is a little bit harsh, though. It is correct that HR lady is my supervisor, although she is powerless against attorneys, let alone section heads. My section head talked to the managing partner of our office and was told my overtime isn’t a problem (so in attorney land, aka egomaniac land, he’s covered us because dealing with HR lady is ‘beneath’ him). I explained to him that I needed some support, that he was going to have to resolve the difference between what he’s been told and what I’ve been told. HR lady made a lot of comments like “I’ll be watching your overtime” and “I notice you work a lot of overtime, but it’s never client chargeable” and suggesting to me I become a paralegal instead (I always tell her I’m happy to participate in a discussion about that, but that ultimately any status change is not my call and that it has to be discussed with my partner). The clients I work on are retainers, not hourly, so if I were to bill to the client, I’d be taking away from people who have to meet certain dollar goals each year.

    HR lady is under a fair bit of pressure, I imagine, because of partner infighting in the firm- some are whining about measly profits per partner compared with similarly sized firms. and there is much more contributing to that than just my OT- we have 500 partners. I will let you know how it turns out.

  8. FWB–thanks for checking in.

    Infighting can get so ugly and it is the little people that get hurt in the process.

    Keep us posted!

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