Exempt Employees with Same Titles and Different Rules

Hello, I am a salaried employee at a hospital. Despite the fact that there is no official start time for us (3 total), 2 full-time, 1 part-time, the full-time employees work 4 days and the part-time works 3.

I am being told that I am late at least once a week. Respectfully, office operating hours are 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, I generally start around 9a and truthfully I do arrive around 930ish somedays. there are occasions when I arrive around 10:00. My day usually ends about 6:30-7:00. My biggest concern is that my coworker arrives about the same time (9:30ish) and nothing is said to her. (Yes I asked).

Today my manager informed me that the clinic hours need to be covered every day and my “latenesses” are unacceptable. Months ago I asked her to provide in writing, what is considered late for exempt employees and was informed that the company follows the FLSA standards for exempt employees latenesses.

With no written policy or standard on start times of my position, how can there be disciplinary threats surrounding my arrival times? My question to you is since the manager will not provide in writing the start time for my current position, is it justifiable for me to file a formal complaint against her? My two counterparts come and go as they please and are not questioned or accused of arriving late. I am also considering consulting the DOL because I have tried to address these issues with HR and get directed back to my manager because of the lack of policy and no standards culture of the company. Please advise.

This is kind of a bizarre problem. Most bosses have no problem setting starting and stopping times, and there are no FLSA standards for lateness for exempt employees, other than you can’t dock their pay. Managers are free to require exempt employees to work specific hours and punish people for coming in late or leaving early–as long as their pay isn’t affected. (They can, however, dock your PTO for late arrivals/early departures.) Now, do I think you should micro-manage an exempt employee’s time? No. Do I think you should care when an exempt employee comes and leaves? Maybe.

Why the maybe? Well, you work in a clinic that has opening and closing hours. I presume you don’t do patient care, because if you do, you need to be there when the patients are there, which  means waltzing in at whatever hour is utterly ridiculous. But, even if you don’t do patient care, you do, undoubtedly, support the staff that does. Which means that they are in the office during these office hours. It makes sense that they should be able to handle whatever they need when they are in the office.

Now, it’s true that that doesn’t mean you need to be there as soon as the clinic opens, but it generally does mean you need to be available when they expect you to be. So, your boss should just say “we need you here by 9:00 at the latest.”

The other weird thing is that your co-worker isn’t being held to the same standard. You get in trouble for  coming in “late” which is a mythical time and your co-worker doesn’t. There are some logical reasons for this. For example, if your co-worker is a long term employee and you’re new, she may have an established reputation and you don’t. If this wasn’t a medical clinic, I’d say she might have clients on a different coast and so it makes sense for her to come in later, but I can’t imagine that is the case.

It’s also possible that, even though you have the same title and same job description, you’re actually doing very different tasks. You’re supporting group A and she’s supporting group B and so you need to be there earlier because group A comes in earlier. I don’t know.

Is this enough to file a complaint? Well, there’s nothing illegal about what she’s doing UNLESS the reason your co-worker gets privileges you don’t get is that you are a different race/gender/religion/etc and the reason your boss has different rules is because of those differences. That would be illegal discrimination. If, however, the reason she’s doing it is that she’s a weenie who plays favorites, that’s legal. If you think the reason is an illegal one, go to your HR department first by writing up an email detailing the problems and using the subject line of “Official complaint of [racial/gender/religious/whatever] discrimination.”

But, if it’s not an illegal problem, there’s nothing to complain to the Department of Labor about. Can you complain to internal HR or your manager’s boss? Yes. What would you say? Well, If you came to me and said, “My manager says I’m late when I come in at 9:30, but when I ask her what time I need to be in she won’t say,” I’d probably respond with, “She’s just told you that 9:30 is too late. Try being in by 9:00.”

It’s not that I think your manager isn’t being a weenie, it’s just that that’s the obvious solution. If that doesn’t solve the problem, then the time you come in is not the problem. And that is a hard thing to find out. Your manager has already established that she’s going to be unreasonable when it comes to setting rules and guidelines. And, because I’m totally non-confrontational (unless it involves obnoxious teens in waiting rooms with music blaring out of their ear buds), I’d try this solution first and see if it works.

If it doesn’t, you need to sit down with your boss. Not stand in the hall way talking. Not sending her an email. Not anything else. A formal meeting where you say, “Jane, I get the feeling you aren’t pleased with my work. You told me to come in earlier, and I have, but you’re still dissatisfied. What do I need to change?” The sitting down here keeps her from wandering off.

Don’t worry if she won’t write it down. After you have this meeting send her an email which states, “Thanks so much for the meeting today. I understand that I need to be in by 8:45, not wear open toed shoes, and make department A my top priority. If I have misunderstood, please reply to this email and let me know.”

If she comes and tells you in person, then simply reply to your original email saying, “Thanks for clarifying that Department B, not A, should be my top priority.”

It’s tedious, but effective.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

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14 thoughts on “Exempt Employees with Same Titles and Different Rules

  1. Excellent article and suggestions! It also could be possible the position is not considered an exempt position by standard of the DOL rules.

    1. If it’s not exempt though they have a lot more things to work on than just starting times. I think it’s probably exempt.

  2. Um, what time does your boss want you there and why don’t you just show up at that time? What difference does it make what your co-workers do? Manage yourself, not others and everything will work out.

    1. Preach.

      LW, you sound frustrated, but really, your boss does not need to give you anything in writing and is not mistreating you. She told you clinic hours need to be covered. So be there at 8:30 and leave at 5:30. This is not complicated.

      If I were your boss, I would not be happy about being asked to put in writing what the official working hours are.

      1. The starting times in writing seems like too much confrontation. What I don’t get is why the boss can’t seem to say what time she wants her to start. The boss should say “I want you to be here by 8:45.”

    2. I agree. It makes you look weird that you are insisting that there be something written down about when you are to come into work. And, I would get frustrated quickly with an employee who seems to be nitpicking about what time to get in.

      Yes, it would be easier if she directly said, you must be at work ready to work at 9:00 am and no later than 9:05. But she has said that you are late at 9:30 and that is a problem. Why won’t you just get to work on time?

      Additionally, even if you are exempt, you can be expected to be at work at a certain time and that isn’t unreasonable. Being exempt doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want.

    3. Anon (ouch)

      Did you read the letter? The boss won;t say what time she wants the LW to be there. “Months ago I asked her to provide in writing, what is considered late for exempt employees and was informed that the company follows the FLSA standards for exempt employees latenesses.”

      There are no such standards. There is no policy.

      “You’re late.”
      “What time do you want me to be here?”
      “Look it up.”

  3. Great post! I have personally dealt with a similar issue. Your suggestion of getting things in writing via email is excellent and so important.

  4. This all sounds frustrating. However, I don’t think there’s anything illegal going on here. Bosses are allowed to be unfair, to be mean, whatever. Some companies don’t care if that happens. HR is going to give your boss lots of freedom here. They are not that interested in helping you. I think the advice Evil HR Lady gave you here is good. Try coming in regularly at an earlier hour and see how your boss treats you. I suspect your hours are not the root of the problem but you need to do this first to find out anything.

    1. Getting specifics would be good. And nailing down not just start times but leave times, in the context of day to day tasks. If your boss wants you to come in earlier then you can leave earlier, that’s one thing. If there is some specific reason you stay until 6:30 – 7 (say processing some paperwork that came up during the day) that won’t change with an earlier start time, you should discuss that and see if some of that work can be rearranged between coworkers.

      If it does progress to disciplinary action then probably you’d get items in writing at that point. Better to address it head on, hopefully that could reduce the overall adversarialness.

      1. But also, if your boss wants you to be at work by 9 regardless of how late you work, that is just fine. You are exempt which does mean you get some flexibility but also means you don’t whine when you have to stay late.

  5. This letter is just one of many that explain all of the reasons why I really really really loathe the idea of “bosses”.

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