May 17, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

More overtime tussles for tech companies?

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The computer employee exemption was changed last year to raise the salary threshold from $250 per week. But other changes make things tougher on workers, advocates say.

According to the AFL-CIO-affiliated Department for Professional Employees, the new regulation dropped a requirement that in order for computer programmers to be exempt, they must do work that requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment. In addition, the Labor Department's test no longer specifies that a worker have a "primary duty of performing work that requires theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge in computer systems analysis, programming, and software engineering."

In a report written last year before the new overtime rules took effect, the Economic Policy Institute said cutting these requirements "makes the exemption applicable to less-skilled employees." The report predicted that 87,000 computer programmers would lose the right to overtime pay thanks to changes in the federal regulations.

See you in court?
Al Robinson, deputy administrator for the Labor Department's Wage and Hours Division, said the new computer exemption rules consolidate regulations in a way that reflects Congress' intention. Robinson also said it's "the exception rather than the rule" to find the new overtime rules confusing and that the changes were needed to make decades-old guidelines relevant to the 21st century.

The Bush administration has said its overhaul of the rules would strengthen overtime rights for 6.7 million American workers. Defenders of the changes point to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that concluded that "more workers appear to have gained overtime protections than lost them."

But Mike Gildea, executive director of the AFL-CIO's Department for Professional Employees, argued that the full impact of the revisions hasn't been felt yet. "In the long run, this is going to hurt a lot of professionals--certainly a lot of tech workers," he said.

Gildea also said the federal overtime changes may well trigger lawsuits, in part because of language that's not particularly clear. "It's going to be difficult to sort out who's covered and who's not," he said.

California's courts also may see more overtime litigation involving tech workers. The state has similar exemptions to the federal overtime rules, with some additional employee protections. California's exemption for computer software workers requires that the hourly rate of pay is at least $45.84--equivalent to annual earnings of about $95,350.

Changing times
Long hours have long been a part of the computer industry, but they've been declining in the software world. In addition, intense stretches of work in the tech world frequently have been rewarded in ways other than overtime pay. Companies in Silicon Valley and other tech meccas have doled out relatively high salaries, work-site perks, a degree of professional independence and a chance for a big stock payoff.

But that employment compact has come under new scrutiny. Many tech professionals who began their careers as singles now have

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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 )
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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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