Flexing Hours for Salaried Exempt Employees

I have some newly installed supervisors who don’t seem to understand what salaried exempt means. I am an HR Manager new to the organization and apparently they have never had a “real” HR Manager. At any rate, we have board meetings, after hours meetings, before hours meetings and even some meetings on the weekend (it’s a medical practice and the doctors are pretty busy during day hours). Well, my new managers feel that every time they come in by choice on a Saturday to get work done or if we have a board meeting on Sunday they should flex their hours. Which ultimately means when I need my managers (who coincidently work across the hall from one another ) are taking at least one full day off a week or leave early every day.

My understanding is as a salaried employee you are paid for the work that’s done. You come in early, leave late whatever it takes to do the job. Needless to say things are not getting done.

Any advice on this? what can I do legally?

Let’s start with the legally part–although a quick reminder that I am not a lawyer and there aren’t any good legal shows on television any more for me to watch so I can pretend to be a lawyer. (Wouldn’t a series about Employment Lawyers be so fascinating? Think of all the drama as they argue for 3 hours about wording in a Summary Plan Description or had heated battles over whether a poorly worded offer letter created a contract. Why has no one thought of this before? Quick, get me an agent!).

So, anyway, I digress. Legally, you can have your salaried exempt employees (assuming they do meet the criteria for exemption) be required to be available around the clock. You can require that they work every Saturday! That they never get comp time! That they field 2:00 a.m. calls! Work them until they drop!

So, there’s that. But, that’s not your real question. Your real question isn’t even about the comp time (we’ll talk about that later). Your real question is, “What do I do when my managers aren’t getting all their work done?” Right? Because that is a real problem. The work isn’t getting done and they are still going home or limiting their work to 40 hours a week. I may have a small insight into why they aren’t getting their work done. I’ll quote part of your email: “we have board meetings, after-hours meetings, before hours meetings and even some meetings on the weekend.” Do you see what I see? A whole bunch of meetings.

Why are you having so many? How often are these meetings? You say they are using comp time every week, which means that these after hours meetings are held every week. Why?

Now, I have no idea what is involved in running a medical practice, so perhaps there are government regulations that require this, that, or the other and that’s why you’re meeting all the time. I don’t know. I do know that if you made me go to board meetings, after-hours meetings, before hours meetings and meetings on the weekends I’d feel downright entitled to take a Tuesday afternoon off. (And, for the record, I’m writing this on Saturday, but my boss is a totally evil HR lady, and well, you know.)

So, your first step is figuring out if these meetings are really necessary. There may be meeting that can be eliminated, meetings that can be combined, or work that can be accomplished via email rather than meetings. Additionally, you have two managers–do both have to be at every meeting? If you only require one to be present, you’ve instantly cut their meeting load in half. While you’re determining the need for so many meetings, speak to your managers about what they think is needed. Find out who is requiring all these meetings and see if that person can be reigned in.

Once you’ve figured out what meetings you can cut, you can start with the other problem. The performance issues. Sit down with each person, individually, and say, “I’ve noticed that you do a great job at A, B, and C, but D and E are not getting done. What can we do to make that happen?”

And then listen. They may say, “now that we’ve reduced the staff meetings to every other week, I should have time for D and E.” They may say, “I have way too much work. I just can’t get to it.”

At that point you can bring up the fact that they are exempt employees and, as such, are expected to get the job done, regardless of the number of hours they work. You can point out that taking comp time during the week is preventing them from getting the work done. You can state what a reasonable number of hours is. (This, in fact, should vary, and I’m going to say it’s going to vary by paycheck, although that’s not the only factor. An exempt employee making $40,000 a year should not be expected to put in as many hours as the exempt employee making $150,000 a year. If your managers are on the lower end of the pay scale, you’re ridiculous to expect 60 hours out of them.) You can discuss that 45 hours a week is not unreasonable.

You can also say, “I need one of you to be here all the time. So if Jan takes Tuesday afternoon off, then Steve needs to stay. Clear?” But, what I wouldn’t do is get rid of their flexibility. I would focus on the performance issues rather than the hours issues. I would focus on coverage rather than demanding face time. If the work that isn’t getting done can be done in the evening from home, suggest that as an option.

Under no circumstances do you want to go in there and say, “You need to work more hours! You’re exempt so you don’t get comp time!” That is just a loud message that you don’t care about them. Eliminate some meetings, and focus on the performance issues, and your problem should resolve. Evaluate if your expectations are too high as well. 60 hours a week for $40k with no flexibility is not realistic. 60 hours a week with no flexibility at $200k is. I suspect your managers aren’t making $200k. (And if they are, I’ve always wanted to manage a medical practice. Call me.)

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22 thoughts on “Flexing Hours for Salaried Exempt Employees

  1. As an exempt professional who once worked for an employer who told us they owned us 24/7 and that we would never get an ‘exceeds’ on our annual evaluations because whatever we could do was just what they expected us to do, I appreciate your answer from the bottom of my little peon heart.

    1. Oh, and it was an insurance company who also told us they paid on the low end of the market.

      At least they were honest.

  2. Another excellent example of the huge quantity of open space between “what’s technically permissible under the law” and “what any sane person would consider to be a good idea”.

    (Yep. I did the “exempt means we own you, body and soul, 24/7, for $35K/yr” thing, too, once, and for a company that nominally had a comp time policy but refused to actually follow it. I earned a year of vacation in 10 months of work, surviving on naps under my desk at 4am and every-other-day visits to my apartment to shower and sometimes do laundry, and when I finally left, they never even gave me my last paycheck. I was _so_ pleased to watch that place completely implode and go out of business a few months later…if the bankruptcy judge had allowed it, the ex-employees could have made up quite a cheering section, in the court gallery the day they were formally liquidated.)

  3. This is such a great response. I’ve been reading your posts for a long time. Curious if you ever hear back from the original posters. Especially in this case.

    1. I often hear back when I write a personal response via email, but I only rarely hear back from people like this, when I publish a response.

      It’s funny–if I pen a 2 minute response, I get a nice thank you note and update. If I write a 1300 word article, mostly silence. I love it when the original letter writers respond, though. Especially if they do so in the comments

  4. After many months I guess I’m finally settling in to Roger Rabbit as a name. It fits.

    Anyway, for $35k I once worked for a company like the poster’s. They required you to “flex” 12 hours of work every day in the office. They also wanted us to “flex” at least a few hours in the office every Saturday and Sunday.

    I had a vacation that was approved in writing six-months in advance. When the time came to take it, my boss said “if you take your vacation I’ll fire you.” My first day back was my last day with the company.

    Good riddance.

  5. I noticed that the HR Manager is new to the company. It is not clear if these supervisors report to this HR manager (in which case your advice is dead on. If not, it might be smart to take a step back before making changes. Is the manager of these people experiencing problems with their schedule? If not, I advise dropping it, at least until you develop some street cred at that company.

  6. Jeez, if you’re requiring people to come in on the weekends they should get some comp time off!

  7. Hmmm, I’m sorry but rather than simply state the facts, as a good HR person should do, the OP comes across as fairly antagonistic towards these supervisors (“whatever it takes to do the job”) throughout the letter. I wonder whether this frostiness comes across at all in interactions with them? It’s so true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar OP, maybe you need to soften your language towards them so it’s less ‘work all hours’ and more ‘I need x,
    y and z done by Tues. Are there any roadblocks to make this happen?’. I wonder as well whether it might be worth

    1. I was thinking the same things but didn’t state them. I also thought, hmm, this is a person with no family obligations, no outside activities, etc. who is trying to make the rest of their world conform to their way of thinking as opposed to seeing the world for what it is: lot’s of competing commitments all vying for limited time. And when one of those commitments has the cutest warmest blue eyes ever and runs full tilt toward you to hug your knees for dear life exclaiming “daddyyyyy” every time you come in the front door it hard to get excited about going back to work for yet another meeting.

    2. Ditto! I thought the same thing when I read that first line:

      ” . . . who don’t seem to understand . . . ”

      Really? Maybe they do understand and it isn’t jump when you say jump.

      Recently I left a place where I was putting in 60 hours a week and still getting chewed out for not doing my job.

      Then when I had a pre-arranged doctor’s appt. which made me 2 hours late – they docked me half a day of paid vacation!

      Needless to say, that put an end to my working “overtime.” Since I wasn’t getting the job done anyway why kill myself for those who will “steal” from me anyway?

      So, yea, flex hours for salaried exempt should be a two-way street. And, often it is a one-way street or you’re not a team player.

      1. I was on one project for 4 years where I was regularly putting in 60-70 hours a week, and working until 3 am. I started to gain weight and become physically ill and exhausted. I backed off to 50 hours and was still producing more than anyone else on the team.
        Yup, I was chewed out for being a slacker. I worked until 3 am and then was chewed out for coming back in to work “late” at 9 am.
        The HR people docked my paycheck on an hourly basis when I went home early with pneumonia.
        So much for “exempt”
        I called our legal department.

  8. I also think “don’t seem to understand what salaried exempt means” really translates to “don’t seem to understand what I want from them,” but they don’t know what she wants from them because she hasn’t told them.

  9. Sorry, but “whatever it takes to do the job” is at tern often used by really bad managers. “Whatever it takes” doesn’t have any boundaries – ethically, morally, physically. Employees need to eat, sleep, rest so that they can stay on top of the game.
    Do the employees have any input into the schedules? Does this new HR person actually know how much time it takes to complete a certain task? I’m not talking about how much time the HR person thinks it should take, but how much it takes in the real world, with people multitasking and waiting on others. Then and only then can the HR person determine how many hours are needed each week to perform all of the tasks. If the number of hours is over 50, then there’s a problem. People can’t sustain long hours for long periods of time (they will burn out).

  10. If I were the employee and I took a job that I was told to be 40 hours, and what they really meant is that it’s actually more than that, consistently, I would be upset. If however they said, “this is a 45-50hr/week and the salary we give you represents that”, then it’s a non- issue. I wonder how many hours/week these folks were told would be the expectation.
    Also, 60/week of work is bad for anyone, if they can’t get any time off in there, let them have the flex time, but is has to be coordinated. and holy yes are there a crazy amount of meetings in there

  11. The problem is the work is getting pushed off on someone else or not done.

    The solution in these cases is to see how many hours per week are actually necessary. Include both working hours and coverage hours (not always the same). Then figure out how many employees you need.

    I have worked mostly in hospitality and every job I’ve had on an exempt level has told me, “You will be expected to work 49 hours per week.” Or “You salary is based on an expected 49 hours per work week.” (Or whatever not always 49).

    This is fair if done in the hiring process, as you can see what is approx expected of the job. It might be more or less, but X amount is the usual and normal considered for the company.

  12. Great response but…no good legal shows anymore? You need to watch The Good Wife. That’s good stuff!! (Sorry, just had to comment.)

  13. I have a salaried employee that makes over $50k. He is allowed to flex his schedule and leave early but not all the time. The employee states how much work he has and is not able to take on a task I assigned and then asks to leave early when they left early the week before and the week before. I said if it was an emergency he could leave otherwise best to work the entire day and try to catch up on work. Is this the correct way to handle. Employee is upset and says ok I’ll stay and work and now has an attitude.

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