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

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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4 thoughts on “Exempt: That Word Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

  1. Most people who complain about getting their time docked for leaving early, don’t realize the effect of their doing so. I have worked with people who think that a schedule is a hinderance to their individuality and will come and go as they please and complain about being picked on. My answer to this person is if the schedule is not to your liking , go to the management and get a schedule that “suits” your needs and follow that schedule. Don’t say to a schedule you have no intention of following just to get pay or hours. A full time position requires a certain number of hours. If you feel that you are accomplishing the job in less hours, you have 2 choices, either cut your hours or request more job assignments to fill hours. You need to be productive in all hours on job and can’t make changes to job, whether in hours or assignments without consulting management or you will suffer consequences. Pay docking is only the first step to getting fired.

  2. In Oregon, I was advised by BOLI that docking exempt employees’ PTO for less than full day absences is risky and could jeopardize their exempt status. They stressed that the exempt employee is not getting paid by the hour, only for getting the job done. On their website, it says that employers can track exempt employees’ hours worked for legitimate business purposes such as job costing or benefit accruals.
    Regarding employer-set schedules, I was told (and it’s on their website) that the employer can set the employee’s work schedule (exempt or not) and can discipline them for not following it. But, not dock the pay of exempt employees for absences of less than a full day.
    The did say that it is borderline to dock PTO in 4-hour increments, but we could probably get away with it.

  3. How can it be correct for an employer to dock someone 1.75 hours of annual leave for leaving 15 minutes early? Shouldn’t the amount of leave deducted match the actual duration of the absence?

    1. When the OP said “sometimes left early” I took it to mean this has happened multiple times, hence the 1.75 hr deduction.

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