I’m part time exempt and my boss says I need to be available 24/7

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I recently accepted a part-time exempt position; I’m contracted for 220 days/year. Unlike most part-time people, I work about 50 hours most weeks. But, I get to choose 3-4 days that I’m off work each month.

Recently, I had to work on one of my “off” days. My supervisor told me that as an exempt employee, I am expected to work when needed 24/7, and despite working most the day, it still counted as one of my “off” days.

I understand that exempt employees work above and beyond 40 hours each week, but is this particular circumstance ethical? I don’t mind pulling 12-hour days on my regularly scheduled workdays, but I do not want to start working on days I’m off. My salary is prorated to part-time status. 

Ethical? Well, kind of, but not really.

For what it’s worth, I spent 3 years as a part time exempt person. I was in a job share, so if I wasn’t in the office, my partner was. But there were plenty of times I put in tons of hours from home on my days off because stuff needed to be done and we had hard deadlines. Was it unfair? Well, to be honest, if I’d been full time, those would have been the weeks I put in 60 hours instead of 40 anyway.

The problem is I suspect your boss is not very nice about it and that you didn’t have a choice. My boss never said, “Suzanne, you MUST do this from home, RIGHT NOW!!!!” I saw that it needed to be done and did it.  I felt responsible and so I did it. I also came in on a Saturday to do work when needed. And that’s the thing about being an exempt employee–you’re supposed to be independent enough and responsible enough that you can spot when you need to work more all on your own. Bosses of exempt employees should also treat their employees like they are responsible enough to know when they need to pull some extra weight as well. From time to time, my boss would call me at home on my days off but she’d always begin, “I’m so sorry to bother you but…”

So, I think this is less of a problem of needing to throw in a few extra hours here and there, but that you feel that your boss doesn’t respect you or your arrangement. It is absolutely normal for an exempt person to have to put in additional hours than what is “scheduled.” But, it’s not ethical for a manager of an exempt employee to demand 24/7 availability. It’s also reasonable for you to have comp time if it gets excessive. But, if you were full time, you wouldn’t be demanding comp time every time you stayed late.

So, if this is a one time occurrence and your boss was stressed out and this isn’t her normal reaction to such things, I’d let it go. If it starts to be a problem, I’d sit her down and say, “Jessica, I’m getting concerned about something. I accepted this job precisely because it was part time, but it appears to be moving into full time territory. That’s not what I agreed to. What do I need to do so that I’m not needed on my days off?”

Or, since you get to choose your days off, is it possible that you can just not schedule them in advance and be like, “Oh, Jessica wants me to come in today, so I’ll take next Tuesday off?” And what is her response if she wants you to come in and you have plans so you can’t? All those things need to be taken into consideration.

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4 thoughts on “I’m part time exempt and my boss says I need to be available 24/7

  1. I’m rather confused. Part time exempt makes sense (if it’s a bit unusual), but 50 hours per week doesn’t seem to jibe with a “Part time” designation. Nor does a schedule of only having 3-4 days off per month. That sounds like a full time schedule (and a pretty busy full time schedule at that!) to me…

  2. I see the solution as simple. If it’s my agreed day off and it really matters to me to have that day off, I’m simply “not home” and “forgot to carry my cell phone.”

  3. In what universe is 50 hours a week considered part time? What you have is a full time flex schedule.

    I’d simply tell your supervisor that you negotiated a flexible schedule where you work only four days a week and if they want you to work more than that they need to revisit your compensation.

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