Poll: Pay for work

Let me set a scene for you, of which I am going to ask you two questions from different perspectives. Forget anything anyone has ever told you about wage law. I’m going to ask two questions and I need you to answer them ethically, not legally. (If you are the type of person whose ethics are defined by the law, well, then you shouldn’t have any trouble, right?)

You are an hourly worker for a company. You are not in a union. You are not a contractor. You’re just plain-old full-time direct labor. You work a normal 8×5 40-hour work week, and your pay period is Sunday through Saturday.

This Friday you have a company paid holiday. w00t! Three-day weekend! You clock in your 4 days of 8-hour shifts and on Thursday at 5pm you write HOLIDAY across the Friday column on your timecard and give it to your manager.

Saturday rolls around and your manager calls. For whatever reason, sick employee or sudden emergency, your boss needs you to come in for a 4-hour half-shift. You’re a good employee, so you do, adjusting your timecard to add the 4 hours to the Saturday column before you leave.

As the hourly worker in this situation, how would you expect those 4 hours to be paid?
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Now, flip it upside-down.

You are the payroll manager at the same company. You get the employee’s timecard and see the Friday holiday just like everyone else. But you also see the Saturday hours.

As the payroll manager of the hourly worker in this situation, how would you expect to pay those hours?
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As for me …

I can see it both ways.

On the one hand, as the hourly employee, if my company disrupts a 3-day weekend and I’ve already got 40 hours on my timecard, well, that’s pretty much the definition of overtime, right? It certainly isn’t my fault that they can’t plan effectively.

But on the other hand, as the person who’s paying the checks, I might balk at the idea of paying overtime someone who only actually worked 36 hours.

This discussion comes up every few years at my company. A few years ago we moved to a system favoring the employee (paying the overtime) because we noticed a pattern: the managers were deliberately messing with the schedule to call in employees that had taken personal time earlier in the week, knowing that they wouldn’t have to pay overtime. A number of employees picked up on it and complained, so it got fixed.

Of course, that’s not to say that it can’t be gamed by the employees. If you know that you’re going to be short-staffed and that someone is going to get called in and you have the sick/personal time to burn, then why not get some overtime out of it? Of course, this is much harder to pull off as an employee than as a manager, but it’s possible.

Now that we’re pinching every penny, the discussion has come up as a cost avoidance measure. Obviously, I think it’s pretty shady and I don’t buy the hours paid for hours worked line. It’s the same reason I don’t believe in the false distinction between sick time and personal time: by dividing them, you’re only encouraging employees to lie to you, effectively penalizing healthy employees.

Comments? But please, don’t talk to me about current wage law. I’m really not interested, and it’s only going to show that you can’t think outside the box. This is an ethical discussion. Of course, if you want to compare current wage law to historical wage law, then go right ahead.

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Rick Osborne

I am a web geek who has been doing this sort of thing entirely too long. I rant, I muse, I whine. That is, I am not at all atypical for my breed.