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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<sigh> exploitation.
the fact that software developers are exploited is old news; the integrity we expect mgmt to exercise regarding long hours is rarely seen. two weeks extra vacation is fair... if you worked an extra 80 hours that year. if you worked an extra 1000 hours, well, three months off would be more like it.

i wouldn't mind being hourly, honestly, because the work-life balance isn't being respected and time for training is never available. therefore, mgmt hasn't kept its part of the bargain, so give me the money.

Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well said
where do these "reports" get their sample population from?? Unless you're a pup fresh out of college, 6-12 months of that cycle will have you begging for hourly wages. You'd probably even take a pay cut. That lifestyle SUCKS. People get burned out and start taking uzis to work with them. And you're right, when do I get to enjoy my earnings? when i'm dead? when do I get the chance to advance my skill set through learning? on the job? please. that's the CEO's of this world feeding you their Kool-aid. and it's further contributing to the extinction of the middle class.

Seems to me the tech professional is paying for the management mistakes of the tech boom.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Link Flag
<i>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.

How are these two even comparable???? Salaried employee at $24,000 and an hourly employee at $57,000???? No wonder the system is screwed up. I hope this was a typo. Otherwise, we may want to impeach everyone in the department of labor.

I'll tell you exactly what this did. It took the tech support industry and turned it into factory workers, no more like supermarket cashiers. They pay a slightly skilled person a salary of $22,000 and force feed them onto their customers(us) as part of their "service" force. I worked with a girl who spoke 3 languages who made $22,000 for software support. Never got any overtime, and she was always mysteriously under probation when review time came around---ie no merit increase. She was later pushed out by some second year college kid who was kept during a "restructuring".

Companies started preparing for this 3 years ago, and that's when the offshoring truly took off. Even paid service sucks. When you pay for service and support, you're still getting less than skilled employees.

Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My question would be....
Why is an exemption necessary for computer-oriented employees?

Does it seem odd to anyone to have an exemption targeted at a specific group like that?
Posted by (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
possible reason
I guess the justification is that, as opposed to an assembly line, where if you're on the line then you must be actively working, a programmer can sit at his/her screen and stare (not considered actively working) at code. Maybe we need some way to show brain activity, that way you'll know when someone is actively thinking about the project at hand.
Posted by bit-looter (51 comments )
Link Flag
Thank You All
On behalf of Mr. Aitken and my entire office, I would like to thank the readers who have taken the time to contact my office with messages of support. We have been amazed by the number of people who have offered to help in any way that they can.

At present, our most pressing need is to talk with people who have witnessed the conduct at issue in this case. Specifically, we are interviewing people who have worked as programmers at Blizzard and other subsidiaries of Vivendi Universal Games.

If you have any questions regarding this lawsuit, please visit our website at, or contact me at
Posted by (2 comments )
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Careful what you ask for....
I have worked for the same company for 7 years, make around 60k, and work(ed) on average 60-70 hrs a week. I agreed to a salaried status when I was hired, Meaning to me the target was 40 hours a week but could be more and may be less. The one advantage I had was I was responsible for a certain amount of work not a certain amount of time. Start when I wanted, stop when I wanted, attend meetings and meet the deadline. My company has decided better safe than sorry and made us all non-exempt. All this legislation has done for me is chained me to a desk from this time to this time, and screwed me out of the bonuses I have enjoyed in the past. I earned those bonuses by putting in the extra hours to turn out some important item overnight.

I am Miracle Man. Miracle Man loves his job. Miracle man hates timesheets. Miracle Man hates the government messing with an agreement between myself and my employer. &and Miracle Man cannot stand whiney people who dont remember what they agreed to when they took the job. Dont like what you got? Go someplace else.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Why if I am a 'Tech' worker am I not entitled to overtime. What retard in the Federal Gov't decided to exempt my long hours and offer me some lame title. If you are going to compensate me alternatively, then so be it. If I agree to it.

Hell, if I am going to line your pockets and not make the pay for hours I put into it, then give me a cut of the sales. We'll see how long that would last....quit ******** and spread the wealth!
Posted by 202567676114204908075970046337 (26 comments )
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I should be paid for what I work.....
That is what I think. Salaries are the biggest scam ever to grace the face of this planet. Period. Even the best justification that I've ever heard about salaries can't claim that people who work overtime aren't getting screwed. And for those who claim that it keeps paychecks from falling below a certain level because what would happen if you didn't work 40 hours a week. There hasn't been a single job over the years when I've been hourly where I didn't have a set x to x schedule. If someone is screwing you over for hours that too is the fault of the employer. Today is all about how much a company can save and put towards profits. **** the worker if it means Wallstreet can see a better bottom line.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
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