Benjamin Franklin wrote in an essay, “Remember that time is money.”
But if Mr. Franklin is correct, why doesn’t that saying apply to me?
Like most Americans, since entering the workforce full-time, I have never worked a forty-hour work week. (It’s always at least fifty.) Yet, any time I work more than forty hours it’s considered “part of the job” and I am not paid for my excess hours. That sounds like free labor and an unethical cost-cutting measure to me.
How is it legal for employers to force employees to work without paying them for their time?
The Fair Labor Standards Act.
Like anything in our country, the Fair Labor Standards Act started off progressive… before it turned into a cage. The Fair Labor Standards Act robs every exempt employee who works a minute more than forty hours a week. (We’ll get to what an exempt employee is shortly.)
Let me explain.
In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into law, a bill aimed to eliminate “labor standards detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers,” and to prevent these substandard labor conditions from being used as an “unfair method of competition” against reputable employers. It was also designed to ensure “[a] fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, according to the President’s Message to Congress on May 24, 1934, and to protect workers “from the evil of ‘overwork’ as well as ‘underpay,’” said the U.S. Supreme Court in Barrentine v. Arkansas Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981).
Are you cringing or laughing as you read that?
It all sounds great.
“A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
Removing “labor standards detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers.”
The minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers is something I have never felt in my career. Most American workers haven’t either. All that matters is delivering for my job. Stay employed. Need that money to continue to hit my bank account. I got bills to pay, not things to enjoy. Late hours. Early mornings. Working on weekends. “Hustle culture.” All a lie to convince American laborers to work for free.
Wages were low, wage theft was prevalent, and sweatshops were common before the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed. The bill stopped children from being killed in machines while working in factories. It forced employers to pay employees a living wage, while also allowing employees to go home. Some Americans died from exhaustion from working days without stopping. Yikes. The intention of these labor laws were to set a minimum wage floor, prevent child labor, and to provide overtime premium pay to curtail excessive hours.
“Overtime premium pay to curtain excessive hours.”
Wage theft prevalent in 1938?
It still is.
Rather than pay employees premium pay for working overtime, employers found a loophole in the bill. The Fair Standards Labor Act created an “exempt employee” category. Here’s how Investopedia describes an “exempt employee”:
The term “exempt employee” refers to a category of employees set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Exempt employees do not receive overtime pay, nor do they qualify for minimum wage. When an employee is exempt, it primarily means that they are exempt from receiving overtime pay.
How is that fair labor?
Why would an employee be exempt from overtime pay?
Requirements differ from state to state, but the Fair Labor Standards Act classifies exempt employees as any job that falls into these categories:
- Outside sales
Well, hot damn!
That’s a pretty wide net. Especially considering every job I’ve ever had has told me to be professional. Don’t all jobs require someone to professional? Pretty sure that’s in every job description, every job orientation, and repeated by every boss. From what I understand, if the job requires a college degree, employers can classify you as exempt. Hell, sometimes an employee can be exempt without a college degree, depending on how the boss and state interpret the five categories listed above. As long as the boss gives you $684 per week or $35,568 annually, he doesn’t have to pay you over time.
Seems like an effective cost cutting measure. Pay an employee for forty hours for a job that requires sixty hours. Twenty hours of free labor.
As always, the employers have all the leverage here, folks.
There’s gotta be some benefits of being an exempt employee, right?
According to Investopedia, “the advantages of being an exempt employee start with the security of knowing that you have a steady paycheck. Also, exempt employees tend to earn more than hourly ones and have access to such extras as retirement benefits, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) plans, and pensions; bonuses; employer-sponsored healthcare plans; and paid vacation time and sick days.”
That sounds like a bunch of corporate bullshit.
And basic needs.
The fact that healthcare is unaffordable without employment is a humanitarian crisis.
That’s a necessity considering the Social Security administration will run out of the excess reserves by 2034 meaning it will only be able to pay out a portion of a retiree’s full benefits — 78% to be exact according to MSNBC.
Most working Americans sacrifice the most important years of their lives for employment. Giving someone a check, not even for all the hours they work, and not providing the above full benefits seems criminal. The best part is about the benefits listed above? The employer takes the money from your check to pay for healthcare and retirement savings plans his company is supposed to provide. (Obviously when it comes to retirement savings the responsibility is on the individual to save, but every employer needs to start matching employee investment/savings contributions and pay 100% of the healthcare plan costs.)
It all seems like a hamster wheel to me.
Now, there’s gotta be disadvantages of being an exempt employee in addition to the above “advantages.”
Let’s see what Investopedia says.
“The main disadvantages lie in not being eligible for overtime or qualifying for minimum wage. Depending on the mindset of your employer, you could find yourself working long hours to fulfill an overloaded work portfolio without any recourse for additional reimbursement or reducing the stress brought on by the long hours. In short, you are at the mercy of your boss.
Mercy of your boss.
That’s how it’s described.
Pray your boss isn’t a tyrant because if he is, you’re fucked.
Most bosses are tyrants.
It’s how they became the boss.
So, here’s what I learned today. The Fair Labor Standards Act allows bosses to force employees to work ninety hours a week while only paying these employees for forty. All the employer has to do to avoid paying employees overtime wages? Tell the government the job is exempt.
How is that not time theft?
How is that not a crime?
Why are American workers not paid for every minute they are working?
Think about every hour you’ve worked without being paid.
That’s a lot of money we’re owed.
Money we will never see.
It’s absolutely disgraceful, unethical, and exploitative of the American worker.