May 17, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

More overtime tussles for tech companies?

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particular, workers have been speaking out against schedules that can sometimes mean 80-hour weeks for months on end.

Electronic Arts has been a focal point for this sort of criticism and is the target of two class-action lawsuits claiming it failed to pay proper overtime wages to game developers. Similar suits have been filed against game makers Sony Computer Entertainment America and Vivendi Universal Games. The companies have declined to discuss the suits, which involve allegations that programmers and image production workers were improperly classified as exempt from overtime pay requirements.

One California-based image production artist at EA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he routinely worked 70 hours a week throughout last summer and fall without any formal overtime compensation to finish a game. He earned a salary of about $49,000, with a bonus of roughly $2,000. Although his team was given two weeks off in December after the game shipped, he argues the time off was not a fair substitute for the overtime pay he claims he was owed.

"It's pretty much like you're working double time," he said. "A couple weeks of comp time just doesn't add up."

The game industry isn't the only corner of the tech world facing overtime-related litigation.

Computer Sciences, which provides services such as systems integration, consulting and application outsourcing, has been sued on two occasions for allegedly failing to pay tech support employees overtime wages they deserved. In one case, it agreed to a $24 million settlement that covers some 30,000 workers--nearly 40 percent of the company's staff--according to an attorney representing plaintiffs in the suit. The company has declined to comment on either suit.

Lawyers say more such action may be on the way. "We've had calls from people at some other major IT companies regarding their (overtime) exemption status, and we're looking into this," said Todd Jackson, a plaintiffs' attorney working on the Computer Sciences case.

Making sense of the rules
Part of the problem is uncertainty about federal overtime rules, which were overhauled last year. The regulations require that most employees be paid one-and-a-half times the normal rate for hours beyond 40 in a work week. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, including a specific exemption for computer employees.

Under the computer exemption, employers don't have to pay overtime to workers who meet certain conditions. Those workers must:

• earn at least $27.63 an hour--roughly $57,450 for a year's worth of 40-hour weeks, if compensated on an hourly basis; or

• earn at least $455 per week--which translates to about $23,650 annually, if compensated on a salary or fee basis; and

• in either case, be employed as a computer systems analyst, programmer, software engineer or similarly skilled worker in the field.

In addition, their primary duty must consist of one or more of several tasks, such as applying systems analysis techniques to determine software specifications.

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