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"Overtime is part of the job" true but a bad attitude?

I develop web services and production systems, but I don't recall signing anything when I was hired that would indicate that I'm on-call all the time.

Does Salary mean being On-Call 24/7?

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Aug 28 '11 at 19:47

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

First, quit. Secondly, please provide more info. – Job May 20 '11 at 1:22
+1 Because your name is Job – Nate Noonen May 20 '11 at 2:36
High salary often does.If you are making the most on your team its implicitly implied. – Aditya P May 20 '11 at 4:57
What does your contract say? – user1249 May 20 '11 at 7:17
Can you add what country you're working in? Labour laws differ greatly around the world – Binary Worrier May 20 '11 at 13:15

14 Answers 14

Being on salary means that you're not paid for the number of hours you work. Instead, being on salary means that you're paid a fixed amount to be responsible for something.

Developers are generally salaried professionals because of the great deal of decision making involved in their career.

Thus, if a decision you've made results in a less-than-desirable result, like a valued client experiencing downtime, then yes, you may need to come in and fix the problem. If unforeseen circumstances cause your client downtime, then you may need to fix their problem.

In my opinion, the question isn't about being on-call vs not on call. It's about taking personal responsibility for meeting goals and doing whatever it takes to keep your customers happy. If your goal is to clock out at 5pm and forget everything, then perhaps a salaried software developer job isn't for you.

The question you need to ask yourself is how invested are you in your line of work, not whether or not you remember signing something. Additionally, salaried employees, at least in the United States, aren't subject to the same labor laws as hourly employees. Therefore, you may not be required to actually sign anything in order to work overtime or outside of normal business hours.

With that said, perhaps your employer should have set the right expectations at the time of hire so you would have had the opportunity to decline their offer of employment.

There are organizations that hire people and don't have business requirements that require on-call staff. You could seek employment for one of these businesses, as some people's personal lives do require a smaller commitment than others.

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The flip side, of course, is that when your decision results in early delivery or unxpected client uptime, you get to have a few days off. – Мסž May 20 '11 at 3:05
@moz No, then you move on to the next project ;-) – quant_dev May 20 '11 at 7:22
@moz: bwahahahaha! – user4051 May 20 '11 at 8:23
Except it's not really fixed hours, because if you miss a day your "fixed amount" gets docked the equivalent to 8 hours times what your hourly rate would be because you were out. Sadly, salary only benefits the employer; they are free to not pay you for overtime, but can also reduce pay for hours missed. – Wayne M May 20 '11 at 12:26
-10 if I could. You do clock out at 5pm and it's normal. Salaried job is not a slavery. And as for the responsibility you mention it normally comes with a generous pay check, otherwise everybody has the right to forget everything at 5pm and by all means must do so. – user8685 May 20 '11 at 15:40

I think short answer is yes. Last year for the first time in my company's history every employee was told they must work 9 hour weekdays and put in a full work day on each saturday till the software was release. Some of our guys checked the law and yeah, if you are salaried, it's amazing what kind of hours your employer can legally make you work and not even have to give you a single extra cent of compensation. (oh yeah and at the time I was taking 2 grad school night classes and it was around midterms and it didn't make a slightest bit of difference for them)

Essentially, if you don't like anything about your current company, you are always free to leave, but if you decide to stay, they can force you to do all kinds of things. Not sure about other states, but in NY as long as you keep your salary and benefits, your employer can even completely repurpose your position and make you do something you were never hired for. "At will employment" FTW

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Ordered overwork is hopefully rare, but sometimes necessary. Your contract should say how you are to be compensated. – user1249 May 20 '11 at 10:17
@Thorbjørn - salaried employees in the US generally don't have contracted hours of work and aren't required to be paid overtime - it was originally meant for executives and 'profesionals'. A few software companies have got into legal trouble by eg. demanding that employees be at their desks by 9:00 which means they are no longer salaried and suddenly they owe $M in overtime. – Martin Beckett May 20 '11 at 16:47
54 hours a week is essentially unsustainable. In most industries, they've learned that this is usually counterproductive. – David Thornley May 20 '11 at 17:22
In california there are all kinds of rules about being a programmer and being salaried. – Christopher Mahan May 23 '11 at 22:03

Salary means you don't get paid hourly. There can be upsides to this depending on where you work (flex hours, etc).

Bad management means that you're on call 24/7. Whether it's due to poor client management (managing expectations, contract, etc) or just poor expectations that you've set yourself with your manager, it has nothing to do with being on contract or not.

Something that I learned very early on is that if you set reasonable expectations with your manager up front, if they value you as an employee, then they'll abide by what you set out as being acceptable by you. Don't set those expectations and management is liable to take advantage of you.

Having said all that, if you're in the software field, you'll undoubtedly come up against weekends that have to be worked as well as the occasional death march - it simply comes with the territory. However, it should definitely not be the norm.

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Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: It's deliberately gamed to be vague, but in the company's favour.

I am not a lawyer, and I live in Australia. Depending on exactly what you sign, and the labour laws in a given country, the following may vary - so take it with a grain of salt (though I think the basic plot will be true of salaried employment anywhere):

Every salaried job contract agreement I've ever signed was deliberately vague on this point. Something along the lines of "the nominal working hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday, but some extra time may be required as per project needs". Effectively what this means is that something like being called up outside of hours to deal with a production issue, or being asked to stay back or come in on the weekend occasionally - are reasonable expectations of you as a salaried employee, especially if a project is in crunch mode or a crucial production system is down.

The not-so-subtle implication in this is that you are generally expected to be in the office for the full "nominal working hours", while the "extra" effort and time you put in generally isn't directly compensated.

The bad news

If you are in a situation where this is being very badly exploited (eg. Constantly being called up 24/7, with the company sternly insisting that this is your job), the bad news is that it might be next to impossible to do anything about it (other than quit).

The good news

In practice it's usually possible to mediate with your manager and the company and agree on what is a reasonable amount of on-call effort and "expected project crunch mode overtime". Companies don't want to get the reputation of becoming Dead Sea Effect sweatshops where no good engineer wants to work. It's in their interest to not overwork and burn out their salaried employees.

TL;DR: Yes, sort of. But in practice it doesn't happen much because good managers and companies know that exploiting their salaried employees will just drive them to burn out and quit. So it's usually a case of soft mediation (unlike wage/hourly work where the rights are more spelled out).

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@Bobby - You're quite right with all this, except to say that you'd be truly shocked at the number of places that genuinely don't care about overworking and burning-out their salaried employees and getting that negative reputation as a result. – CraigTP May 20 '11 at 13:19
+1 or making me look up "TL;DR". – user8685 May 20 '11 at 15:45
@CraigTP: De Marco and Lister's Peopleware had a chapter about turnover. They had a two-part quiz for managers: What is your annual turnover? and How much does it cost to train a new employee? Answering both questions meant you passed. The impression is that lots of managers don't understand the costs. – David Thornley May 20 '11 at 17:25
@CraigTP: Notice that I said "good companies" :P – Bobby Tables May 21 '11 at 0:11
Well, to be fair, there's usually a clause about overtime, but it's formulated in a way that would make it hard for an employer to have you on call without compensation, or to have you work significant overtime. But yes, the Netherlands have pretty strong laws protecting employees' rights. – tdammers May 21 '11 at 0:45

Check the laws in your state, then check the balls in your pocket. Chances are the latter are far more important than the former.

IT salaried positions are often 'exempt' from overtime, except for contractors (yea!)

As others mentioned, it boils down to: if you don't like the working conditions, find a better position.

Or passively resist until they change their policies (unlikely) or you get fired (likely).

Yes, it sucks, but some companies are really stupid about how they treat employees.

Then they wonder why they have 300% turnover every year

ADDENDUM: it is possible that the company simply hasn't considered how insane their policies are; it is also possible that they just don't give a damn. It is most likely somewhere in between.

EXAMPLE: I once worked with a very large firm that had a rotating on-call duty. Every developer in the department spent a week being on-call 24/7 for support, but was also expected to work a regular 9-5 day. (We were compensated for the extra time however.) After the second night of 2 hours' sleep I arrived 30 minutes late to work, and was reprimanded and reminded that the on-call part of the job was made clear when I was hired and if I couldn't handle it perhaps I should work somewhere else. I told them I was sorry to disappoint them but I did not think that continuing in this way would be beneficial to my health, and offered to clean out my desk immediately. The deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces was priceless. Sadly, instead of re-evaluating the insane on-call policy they decided to exempt me from it.

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Salaried at-will employment usually means if you don't like the hours they ask, you can quit. Or bluff and see if they blink. And if they don't like the hours you put in, up to 24/7 as needed to do your assigned work, they can terminate you. Or bluff and see if you blink. Poker anyone? – hotpaw2 May 20 '11 at 4:58
Where is this? No company in the UK or Ireland would dare treat it's employees like this, at least not for very long. Irish labour laws are there to protect the employee - probably makes us dirty socialists in the eyes of American Republicans :) – Binary Worrier May 20 '11 at 13:13
California has pretty good labor laws. It's very "employee oriented". – Richard DesLonde May 21 '11 at 3:54
@Steven A. Lowe: I gave you a +1. Based on your experience, do you think things will change in the not too distant future? – Jim G. May 21 '11 at 16:30
+10 "then check the balls in your pocket". Classic. – WernerCD May 24 '11 at 1:42

You never mentioned what happens when you don't answer/come in. Did anyone in authority say, "when I call I expect you to answer" or was there some other middle-manager person that just thought they would try it out?

Any history of how often this happens? Is this typical in your company?

This is common for network admins, but some developers do this as well.

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Does it? No. Does it often get abused to mean it? Yes. Same with how salary is meant to mean you get the same pay regardless of hours worked (hence no overtime pay) but in 99% of situations if you miss a day you are docked pay, but if you work an extra day you get nothing. My view is this: If it's really that bad and you're being taken advantage of by being asked to work 24-7, then it's time to find a better job.

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I was going to vote this answer up on the strength of the two questions you posed and answered, but then it descended into a bit of a rant. If you could rephrase this, as you do raise valid points, it could be a good answer. – ChrisF May 20 '11 at 11:42
Yeah, I do tend to be a bit ranty about subjects like this :) I removed the rantiest part. – Wayne M May 20 '11 at 12:08

If you are in the US, in the absence of a union contract to the contrary, you are by Federal law an exempt employee (which means "exempt from overtime").

29 U.S.C. § 213 a(17) any employee who is a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, or other similarly skilled worker...

The vast majority of companies in the US will not sign any sort of contract with you limiting their ability to overwork you at all, and if you somehow manage such a beast, then congratulations on being a single-member-union. If you read the fine print in employee manuals, they clearly state that they are not contracts and also that they may be changed at any time by the company without warning or notice to you.

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As others have mentioned, Salary traditionally means that your compensation is not tied to the hours you work. Although some employers try to exploit this to demand 24/7 on call or 80-hour weeks during crunch time that's certainly not true in every case.

My personal view on working in a salaried position is that it means that flexibility is required from both the employee and the company. Some companies take that further than others, but at a minimum it should mean that when the company needs some extra time from you, within reason, you put in those extra hours. Likewise, if you want to take a long lunch/take your kid to the dentist/head out early on a Friday, as long as you're not messing up the schedule then you should have the freedom to do that.

It's important to have a discussion about the expectations during an interview. I always ask potential employers how much overtime is generally expected, how flexible their hours are, and what their policy is on comp-time. In my experience very few companies have an official comp-time policy, but most decent managers will offer some comp-time if you have to work a lot of overtime. The best manager I ever worked for had a 1:1 comp-time policy, so that in the long term everyone averaged 40 hours a week.

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The best manager .... 1:1 comp-time policy - so you get dragged in at 4:00am every sunday to swap backup tapes and in return you get 30mins off during the week - and that's the BEST you can hope for. – Martin Beckett May 20 '11 at 16:50
@Martin Beckett: I suppose it could have been abused that way, but the reason it was a great gig was because it wasn't abused that way. It was more like 'Okay team, we need to push a little harder for the next couple of weeks so we need to do 9 hour days, but after that we're all taking a 4-day weekend', or simply having the option to work four 10-hour days and take every friday off (which was my usual schedule). My boss absolutely refused to ask anyone to come in, or to even answer a phone, on the weekends. – Cercerilla May 20 '11 at 18:28
it all comes down to good/bad places, irrespective of the rules. A friend worked somewhere that gave you 50% credit for coming in out of hours! Then hit a project that needed somebody to come in every 4hours over the weekend - for which they got 15mins for each 30min visit. Then the company wondered why it was losing all it's staff. – Martin Beckett May 20 '11 at 19:26

I don't think you provide enough context about your situation, so I'll simply illustrate my situation.

In our small shop, we have 3 developers and a technically inclined owner. I'm considered more or less on call 24/7 as is one of the other devs, but what that really means is we have a small staff and if a site goes down at 2am someone is getting called and there's a good chance it's me and if I'm available I'm expected to resolve the issue, even if that perhaps takes all night.

It doesn't mean I have to be by and answer my phone any time I'm rung, but we have a realistic expectation that in this day and age we are reachable the vast majority of the time and we understand that if we are contacted after hours it is important.

It also is not taken as an excuse for abuse; 24/7 is really only for emergencies. And if a situation occurs no one is on my case if I sleep in the next morning to make up for fixing the server at 3am.

With a small shop making web apps, it seems unavoidable. We couldn't leave a site down until we come in the next morning, and we cannot have a person dedicated to late night technical work.

It works well for us, but that hinges on us operating with trust and respect for each other.

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+1 for "trust and respect for each other". Usually there's no trust and no respect for the "slaves" working to make the owner rich. In an environment where there is trust and respect overtime once in a while is manageable, but otherwise it's unacceptable. – Wayne M May 20 '11 at 17:26

Its all about leverage, I don't have years and years of experience but I do work for a small startup company at the moment where I am the primary developer on the application. When I first took the job I was still "growing into" the skillset required for the job since I was making a jump into a new programming language / platform that I wanted to pursue so I put in extra time to account for my learning (I had discussed this with the owner before being hired and he was comfortable with me and I did a small initial project so he knew I had potential).

Anyways, things went on and after a couple months I had built out the core of the application to where it was working as expected and things seemed pretty smooth from my end. The owner continued to put pressure on me to deliver more and more in shorter periods of time so I basically just started to get rather confrontational with him because I knew I had leverage. I am working at a salary on the low end of the spectrum for the type of work I do (since I need the experience in this and its still decent money compared to where I would be at this point if I was doing a different career) and he had told me before I started with him how he had been having trouble finding someone for the project and that the last guy was basically a disaster. He had told me all along that I was doing a good job and he was happy with me so I knew he wasn't going to just dump me so I stood my ground. A threat was made about me having to work weekends if something wasn't completed and I basically laid out to him that I would no longer tolerate this and left him to read the "writing on the wall", so to speak, to where he probably realized that I would find another job if he continued to frustrate me based on the way I was reacting.

You just have to read the situation, if you feel you have the upper hand then don't hesitate to express your frustration, still be professional (don't cuss them out) but you can still be animated when talking with them and make them realize that you do have value and someone else may even value your skills more so you can walk away if you want. Now if I get a call much after 5:00, or the weekend, I don't answer and have yet to hear any complaints. Also, it has helped me with my communication skills to an extent as I am now more proactive in charting the course ahead by explaining in more detail why things may take a bit longer than expected.

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If you are in a startup, definitely yes.

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Yes, but it isn't always a terrible thing

I went close to 3 years straight on two different jobs.

At the most recent one I think I got called about 20 times in 3 years, much of that was during major work where I had been warned ahead of time.

At the first one I went a little over two years without sleeping more than 4 hours in a stretch except on the rare winter Sunday that load was too low to break anything. It took 3 months to get back to sleeping > 6 hours in a stretch as I kept waking up in a panic that I hadn't gotten any pages.

If you are describing the first situation, that is reality at many places.

If you are describing the second run away now.

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In Australia it is typical even if you get a salary to get an on-call allowance and to be on a weekly roster; i.e. you will not be on call everyday of the month. This is regardless of whether you get a call or not. If you actually get a support call then you should get overtime and that can be even double time rate for weekends or after 10PM on weekdays. I am not talking about the occasional time you have to stay late for a couple of hours, but about specific support arrangement that you have been directed to do. In any case this should have been discussed with you at the time of your contract.

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