Thursday, January 24, 2008

An expectational argument for overtime pay

Another day, another wage and hour issue.

In 2006, IBM settled a wage and hour class action lawsuit for $65 million. In the lawsuit, it was alleged that IBM had misclassified 7,600 technical workers as exempt and therefore withheld overtime from them. As a result of the settlement, IBM has reclassified those employees as non-exempt, and has begun to pay them overtime. However, to ensure that the employees not be paid a higher overall salary, IBM has cut their salaries by 15% to compensate for overtime payments. The goal is not to punish the employees, but to keep their total compensation roughly the same as before the reclassification. [See IBM Cuts Base Salaries by Switching 7,600 Workers to Nonexempt Status.]

The blogosphere is starting to light up with criticism of IBM. From HR World: "Newsflash, people aren’t stupid: salary is guaranteed income and overtime is not. Can you say disgruntled employees?"

Let me offer a different perspective, based on expectations. Let's say someone is hired and told, "We are going to pay you $60,000 a year." So, twice a month, the employer expects to cut a check for $2,500 and the employee expects to receive a check for that amount. Now, let's say the Department of Labor comes in and says, "No, no, that is a non-exempt position. You have to pay that employee overtime." Why should that change the fact that the employee still expects to earn $60,000 per year? The employee is doing the same exact work, and should expect the same pay. The only thing that has changed is the Department of Labor's opinion on an exemption. But that determination should have no effect on the employee's salary expectation. So, if an employer wants to figure out what hourly rate, coupled with an average amount of overtime, will get an employee to the expected $60,000 per year, where's the harm? I need someone to explain to me how the employee has been hurt.

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