Various questions and answers about the work (Part 1)

How many hours per week can a salaried employee be required to work?

I am from the state of Florida where I work in a store as a manager. I was hired with the understanding that I would be required to work 45 hours/wk. Is there a limit to how many hours I am required to work without being compensated? During my tenure with this company, there have been weeks where I have been REQUIRED to work 70+ hours with weeks to months with no days off. When base rate is divided by hours worked, some of the managers are not even receiving minimum wage for the hours they work.

Rita Risser’s Response:

Guess what — they got you. As a manager, you are exempt from the law requiring overtime. Minimum wage doesn’t apply. Federal law defines a manager as someone whose primary duty is management and who receives at least $155 per week. And there’s no limit on how many hours they can require you to work.

Florida law may be different, but I doubt it. That bastion of liberalism, California, does have a limit on how many hours a week you can be required to work: 72. After that, you’re free to leave.

I suggest you look for another job that pays better. Most managers I know, though, are working 60 to 70 hours a week. Does anyone out there have a job with good pay and good hours?


How many hours can supervisors be forced to work?

I am a college student who has been working for a company during summers and holidays for about four years. About five weeks ago my manager quit her job. With her departure I found myself running the store. I worked, on several occasions, over ten hours a day without a chance to take a lunch break or to relieve myself. The inability to relieve myself, in the five week period, caused me to become ill. Are there any laws against this kind of abuse? Could I take action against the company? Thank You.

Rita Risser’s response:

California law requires employees to receive a ten-minute break every 4 hours and a half-hour unpaid meal period if you work 5 hours a day. You are also entitled to overtime for over 8 hours a day (you are not a “manager” by law). Most states have similar laws. U. S. law does NOT have provisions for breaks or meals. In California, you can file a claim with the Labor Commission.

In any state, you may be able to file a workers compensation claim for your illness.


Can employee’s work hours be changed on management’s whim?

My employer is changing my work hours. My supervisor has decided to work part-time – in the morning hours. I have worked for 5 years (a morning schedule 5 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.) Now they told me I have to change my hours to 8 to 5:30.

I have a 2 year old child in day care. His day care does not have openings past 4 p.m. I don’t want to have toolook for another place for him. I want to keep my hours as they are. I like them.

Do I have any rights? Can they change my hours to accomodate another employee wanting to work only morning hours? Am I out of luck? Any suggestions to make them try to work with me? Any ideas on what I can say to the company to convince them not to change my hours?

Rita Risser’s response:

Unless you have a union contract or employment agreement, there is no entitlement to work certain hours. The employer should give you a reasonable time to make other arrangements for day care (maybe a week or two) and then if you can’t comply, you could be terminated. You might be entitled to unemployment since it’s not your “fault” that you had to quit, although the unemployment judge might rule that it would be reasonable for you to look for alternative day care. If you look and don’t find anything, you will be more likely to get unemployment insurance than if you don’t look at all.


 

What law protects overworked semiconductor engineers?

Hi, I am an engineer working in the semiconductor IC design business. I am wondering if there is any LAW that can prevent us engineers being exploited by companies for more productivity. I find myself constantly have to work into late hours/weekends (by request of managers, no, not a startup company) for no immediate financial reward, in order to meet the goal of not missing a deadline. Is this the “NORM” of this industry or am I just in an “un-human” profession. I.e.,. Why are PH.D. engineers (that’s me) being paid so low compared to lawyers and M.D.s.

Rita Risser’s Response:

The basic law underlying all of American employment rights is called at-will employment, which derives from the master-servant relationship. The main right you have in this situation is the right to quit. In California, you also have the right to refuse to work more than 72 hours a week.

I work for lots of semiconductor companies, and hear about the practices at others, and many of them have the same culture you describe. The one outstanding exception is Intel. They recognize that to be the world leader they must have endurance, which can only come from employees who live balanced lives. This is not an ad for Intel; Altera is another example, and there are many more, I’m sure.

Next time you interview, ask about their philosophy about deadlines, long hours, etc.

And as for those high salaries lawyers and MDs make, don’t believe it. The average doctor and lawyer do not break $100K.


 

Can we require 24-hour availability?

Have you heard about a court case (possibly in 1996) in which someone filed a discrimination claim and won because the potential employer had a statement on the job application that said something like: “You must be available for any 24-hour shift any day of the week.” We are trying to determine if it is discriminatory to have such a statement on the application form or if it’s legal as long as there is a genuine business reason and it is a BFOQ.

Rita Risser’s Response:

Good memory! The case is OPUKU-BOATENG v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA, ___ F.4th ____, 96 C.D.O.S. 7003 (9th Cir.,1996). The case did not hold that such language was illegal, but it did limit how you could use that restriction in practice.

The case involved a member of the Seventh Day Adventist faith who applied for a position where 24-hour availability was required by federal law. After he was hired, he told the employer he could not work from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday each week. The employer took an “informal poll” (undocumented) in which employees reportedly said they might consider occasionally switching schedules with the new employee. The employer thought it over and decided reasonable accommodation was impossible.

As you can imagine, the Ninth Circuit had a field day with this one. Employers are required to allow employees days off for religious observances, unless it would create an undue hardship.

The Court said there were many accommodations that could have been made, including excusing him from Sabbath work and scheduling him instead for other equally undesirable shifts, adopting a system of voluntary or mandatory shift trades, employing a combination of the above procedures, or arranging a transfer to another department (this for a new employee!)

The Court also said, “Hypothetical morale problems are clearly insufficient to establish undue hardship. Even proof that employees would grumble about a particular accommodation is not enough to establish undue hardship. . . . Likewise, the mere possibility that there would be an unfulfillable number of additional requests for similar accommodations by others cannot constitute undue hardship.”

So, you can have the statement you propose on your application, and legitimately reject any applicant who can’t meet that requirement, unless the applicant has a religious reason for not working certain hours. You also may be required to accommodate someone with a disability who can’t work all hours. As a precaution, I suggest you include a statement on your application that “If you have a religious or medical reason you cannot meet this requirement, reasonable accommodation will be made as required by law.” If you are faced with a request for accommodation, do contact an employment lawyer. Good luck!

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