Does working late mean coming in late the next day?

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in Your Office Coach

Question: Our HR manager recently told me that my bosses had complained about my coming in late.  I am a secretary to three attorneys in a large law firm. Since I frequently work after hours without overtime pay, I assumed that arriving late was no problem. When I apologized to the attorneys, they said the HR manager brought up the subject. The attorneys thanked me for working in the evenings.  I have told the HR manager that I don’t appreciate her misrepresenting the situation. I would like an unbiased third party to mediate this tardiness issue, but a friend says that bringing up overtime would create big problems. What should I do?”  Angry with HR

Marie’s Answer:  Regardless of who initiated this discussion, the bottom line is that you need to arrive on schedule and be paid for any extra hours worked. Consider these points:

•    Although your HR manager might be slightly overzealous, she is responsible for ensuring that policies are consistently applied. She’s just doing her job.

•    Even if your bosses don’t mind, your early morning absence could create problems for others.  People may have to keep checking to see if you’re in. Co-workers may have to answer your phone. Clients may be waiting for information. 

•    Punctual employees might reasonably complain that tolerance of your tardiness constitutes special treatment. And don’t be too sure that the attorneys really approve. They may simply fear highlighting the unpaid overtime issue. 

•    Instead of escalating the tardiness fight, simply agree to arrive on time, then ask your compliance-oriented HR manager to help you get the pay you deserve.  She needs to ensure that these lawyers obey the law.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie June 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm

In many states this would be legal as long as it occures in the same week. You can check the wage laws in your state.

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Wayne April 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm

My question is it legal to force an employee to come in late after working overtime the night before just to keep them from making their overtime pay at the end of the week?

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Des September 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Why can’t the attorneys clear this up with the HR representative themselves?

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Jacki Labat September 24, 2009 at 8:03 am

The question I have is “are you an exempt employee or non-exempt?” I have worked in settings where I was classified as “non-exempt” with respect to certain aspects of my job but then treated as an “exempt” employee other times, and that just wasn’t fair to me.

In general, non-exempt employees are paid overtime…and I’m no attorney, but I think that is a requirement by law in some (most?) states. Exempt level employees are not hourly employees, and as a rule (from my experience) are able to stay late, come in late, work from home and adjust their hours “as needed” so long as the work is getting done.

As a non-exempt (hourly) employee, you are expected to work set hours and get paid overtime. If you are being required to work late you should a) be paid for it, b) arrive at your regular start time or c) make an agreement that the overtime hours can be “offset” on other days. There was a strict “no overtime” policy at one of my previous employers, but at times when overtime was required for a project, we were told to discuss it with our managers and/or HR in advance and adjust the hours on another day so that no given week totaled more than 40 hours.

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Kelly Long September 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm

completely disagree Jason, not usually salaried… I come in “around” 8am, I leave “around” 5pm as needed or as I need to. I will work from home if needed but we are on a strict 36 hr week and I don’t work for free. (non-exempt salary here, which means I get over time paid if it’s worked)

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Kelly Long September 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I was exempt salary working for a nutritional company 2000-2006; as an executive assistant. It was due to the fact that I helped write the business plans, create the investor presentations, etc. If I didn’t have a say in how the company was represented or seen, then I’d have been non-exempt salary, as I am now.

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Michelle September 15, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Just because you are a salaried employee does not mean you are exempt people! You need to read the exempt non exempt classifications under the FLSA. Exemptions are generally based on job duties, independent judjement, and decission making authority not salary or hourly!

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Lydia September 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Barb, thank you for sharing your insight on this subject. I personally am a non-exempt Admin and therefore when I work overtime am compensated for it. Due to being the one who also must manage our budgets when I see that my overtime may cut into our bottom line I will let my immediate manager (I support 5 Executives in different time zones) know that I will be adjusting my work schedule for the week to balance out any overtime that was required after regularly scheduled hours. He is ok with it and I am always availalbe to the others via cell phone with any questions or needs they have.

I think the gal working for the attorney’s must go to her immediate manager and discuss openly the issue. Which I feel is: When she works overtime after her regular shift is it ok to come in later the next day or in the same week to compensate for that or how should she record her overtime in order to be compensated.

If the company is large enough to have an HR manager then they should be able to assist her in an annonymous report of non-payment of overtime, in that case all employees are evaluated and not just her.

Thank you to all for your open sharing of topics that affect us in day to day living.

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Vicki September 12, 2009 at 6:05 pm

First, if you are SALARY, they are not obligated by law to pay overtime. That being said, it is also inconvenient to just come in late when you work late the night before because the other co-workers or your boss doesn’t know about it. USUALLY, when I’ve worked a number of overtime hours, I simply kept a record and after 10-12 hours, asked for a paid personal day instead that could be scheduled in advance. That can be cleared through your boss to HR and your absence on’t be a policy issue. Simple solution – everybody”s happy. I know it’s hard to do a “turnaround” when you get home late and have to go in early again, but if it’s happening every day more often than not, then you need to let your boss know. But realize that lawyers are easily working 60-70 hours a week, so 50 hours a week won’t sound like a lot to them. My last admin job was averaging 55 hours per week, so I just arranged an extra day off here and there. Hope it helps.

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Laurie September 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Managers sometimes don’t like confrontation with employees because they don’t want to be perceived as inflexible. So it could be the secretary’s managers that are lying about the situation as well. However rather than playing the blame game it would be easier to come up with a plan that works for everyone including HR.

Coming from the IT industry flexible work schedules are normal for everyone including support staff. This is a concept that many traditional industries don’t understand. In some cases they don’t want to deal with it because they can’t document it. Which is what it sounds like is the real issue here. This secretary may need to work the extra hours on Tuesday so they come in late on Wednesday when the work load is less. However some employees in this secretary’s organization may have a problem with this becoming a trend or may feel it is not appropriate for their business model. Whatever the case is, it sounds like this secretary needs to work the assigned hours, push back to the attorney’s when there is too much work and have HR document any and all overtime so they receive the correct pay. Maybe the attorneys need to hire a second secretary or file clerk to assist with the work load. It may even be a case of reassigning some of the work load to someone else that maybe isn’t as busy.

There are many ways that could solve the problem. Based on what this person has stated the HR manager could have handled it better to get at the heart of the matter rather than just pointing a finger and saying work the hours you are assisgned.

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meghan September 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I agree. I believe its illegal for an HR manager to know an employee is working unpaid overtime and not addressing it. It is basis for a lawsuit.

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Amy September 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm

It’s not true that secretaries and executive assistants are usually salaried. In your case possibly, but not in most cases. That makes for an entirely different situation.

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LILLY September 11, 2009 at 11:43 am

I would love it if we were SALARIED. But I’m just wondering what industry you come from. I have been in the field for over 30 years and have NEVER been an exempt admin position, nor have I ever seen a admin position job opening ever as exempt

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LILLY September 11, 2009 at 11:40 am

If you are non-exempt, (which in my 30 years of secretarial/admin experience the positions have always been) my personal opinion (and again my experience with previous employers) is that most importantly, if you’re coming in late in the morning just as you see fit, that’s not right, you should be arriving at your scheduled work time unless you have made previous arrangements with your boss. As far as overtime, if you’re non-exempt you should be paid the overtime for it, as far as I’ve ever been told, that’s the law. I have been with previous employers who have agreed to allow you comp time instead of overtime, but it would still need to be “paid” in time and a 1/2, and your comp time is something you would arrange with your boss, you couldn’t just decide one day to be late because you have time built up. Just wanted to provide my two cents from previous experience

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Patricia September 11, 2009 at 8:16 am

If you & your bosses have an understanding about your hours (being you do not get paid OT) that’s all that should matter.

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Mohan M Prasad September 10, 2009 at 10:34 pm

The issue here is a trade off between hours of working and the sancity to punctuality of attendance .

It’s on this count that HR has done it’s part in pointing out to the late coming of staff. That’s their job.

Now , as regards taking cognizance of this issue is a matter to be dealt with by the respective Bosses . (Since you have not mentioned about overtime or compensatory off or deduction for later arrival , I assume that these system do not exist in your firm ).

The acid test for you would be to check if your coming late as compensatory to your staying back is ‘ok’ with your bosses .(You may also have a dialogue on the clocking of weekly hours with the flexi timings as an understanding to mutual avail)

The response will help you to understand where the problem lies( pun intended).

While you may find a systemic solution to the problem , where I come from is slightly different .

Your how asssumed that HR has misrepresented . May be this positioning is a bit too early . Please try asking your bosses if your coming late is ok …….you may open your eyes to better understanding .

Good luck
Mohan M Prasad

Your note

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Karen September 9, 2009 at 3:44 pm

No one addressed the lying of the HR Manager. She was not doing her job; she did not address the issue of paid or unpaid overtime. She did not cite company policy, only said the attorneys were complaining, which apparently was a falsehood. Yes “angry with HR” should have consulted with her bosses before coming in late, but if they were ok with it and she is salaried, there is no harm done. Lots of companies have these arrangements. I think the HR Manager was out of line.

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Barb. September 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm

First of all, Jason, BRAVO. There needs to be more men in this field, irregardless of ANYTHING else. Knowing how to be efficient and have office skills is NOT strictly a woman’s skill. You have no idea how many men I know who could use to know how to do paperwork efficiently and effectively – I was married to one for 13 years, and as friend is fond of saying, “Thank God and Greyhound he’s gone!”

Not all Executive Assistants are salaried, it depends on the field and the firm. The Executive Assistant in our agency isn’t salaried, but the Executive Secretary who works for her and their bosses is – which is backward to me, but its their issue NOT mine.

A good-sized firm, which apparently this one is since they have an HR person, should also have an employee manual that she should have been given upon her hire to refer to and she should have a copy in her desk.

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Barb. September 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I spent several years being a legal secretary and can attest to the fact that you are often working unusual hours to accomplish the tasks needed to support their caseloads.

I also worked as a part-time secretary to one attorney for about 6 mos. when his secretary/office manager was overwhelmed, and then again he hired me to come back for a special assignment that his secretary was to know nothing about.

Was she hired to work for 3 attorneys, originally? If not, then you are being overworked trying to support 3. If so, has their caseload expanded significantly since you began? When I first started as a legal secretary my boss told me it would be part-time and there would be days I’d be going home early for lack of work to do. Right after I was hired, our caseload picked up significantly. In the 4 years I worked for him, I went home early a total of 2 times due to lack of work to do – actually he wasn’t as ready for the next step in a couple of large cases and needed more prep time for them before he could hand them off to me to type.

Also, if you’ve been with these attorneys for any length of time, have they turned some prep work over to you to handle that they hadn’t had you doing before? When my boss started doing bankruptcies, he trained me in how to do the research and initial paperwork to free up his more expensive time for other things and we billed clients for my hours at 1/3 of his cost. He also raised my pay to reflect the added responsibility.

This was back before e-mail, so everything had to be hand done. I even formulated generic documents (along the lines of Stephens-Ness forms) onto our computer so that we didn’t have to use as much paper for simple legal forms and processes, such as name changes.

The attorney I worked for part-time was on the technology cutting edge and this was the era of the BEGINNING of e-mail technology. I was the only one he allowed to use it and I was compensated for my experience and confidentiality. He didn’t want anyone else to know that this was a forthcoming thing. His partner, that I also supported, was in an office 80 miles away – we were in remote NE Oregon – and I used that e-mail capability to provide staff support to her, rather than her having to hire someone while she got her feet under her and got better established in the area.

Point: added responsibility, added workload, and expertise all should be fairly compensated. If they can’t afford a raise, or don’t want to give one, negotiate a better benefits package (I’m thinking added $ into a retirement fund), or negotiate flexible hours. If your firm is big enough to have an HR person, they are big enough to be able to support (and recognize) your added contributions and act accordingly!

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Marta September 9, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Exempt or non-exempt aside, it has always been my understanding that such things should be handled in whatever way follows your company’s standards, and that you should never just assume that because you work late that you should come in late the next day to comp the hours. Business must still be done, and it is best to discuss with your boss(es) how this should be handled before implementing your own solution. For example, if you work late one evening, the boss may prefer that you leave early on a different day, or add up all the hours and take a scheduled day off to comp the time instead. This allows others to know when to expect you to be gone, and to plan for work-arounds while you are out.

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Marie McIntyre September 9, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Just to clarify, this employee, like most secretaries, is classified as non-exempt and is therefore entitled to overtime. Anyone who would like more information can find the requirements for exempt vs. non-exempt classification in Overtime Labor Laws: 6 compliance tips — a free white paper on Business Management Daily's Free Reports page. Thanks for the comments! Marie

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Janey September 9, 2009 at 2:48 pm

What is the policy of your company. Are you exempt or not? Even if you are exempt there should still be a balance. Exempt does not mean you are worked excessive amount of hours because they can with no compensation. Many people are under the impression that if you are exempt it means an implied servitude to the employers and it does not.

If I were you, I would keep track of the extra hours, what it was for etc. I would also present it to the attorneys and HR to see how they would like for you to handle the extra hours.

I am exempt but I am able to accur comptime hour for hour over 40 in a week. If I ever leave I will not be reimbursed for those hours but I am allowed to have them placed on the books and use as needed.

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Tracy September 9, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Just curious. Would you have answered the question differently if the Secretary was an Exempt employee? I think the exempt vs. non-exempt issue related to clerical support is very vague and would love to see it explained more clearly.

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Jason September 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm

First of all Secretaries and Executive Assistants are usually SALARIED employees. Which means you must arrive on time and work late as necessary and they are NOT OBLIGATED to pay you anything extra. If you’re hourly and they are not paying the overtime that is grounds for a lawsuit. But I’d avoid the lawsuit unless it gets excessive as you it will follow you around that you sue your employer.

I work for a CEO and CFO and have even served as a Board Officer while serving a CEO and I can tell that the more vocal you are (especially if you are a women — I’m a guy (yes I’m straight and married to a wonderful woman; have to clarify all the time it’s sickening), you will not have a job very long.

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