May 17, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

More overtime tussles for tech companies?

A spate of lawsuits and new government rules has the tech industry scratching its head over overtime.

The decision earlier this year by computer-game titan Electronic Arts to reclassify some of its employees as hourly workers eligible for overtime pay but not for bonuses or stock options has helped bring the issue to the fore.

EA's move followed several suits filed by workers who claim game-software companies, and tech-services giant Computer Sciences, violated overtime rules. And still more lawsuits could be ahead, partly because of a controversial--and some say confusing--revamping of federal overtime rules last year.


What's new:
A spate of lawsuits and new government rules has tech workers and their employers scratching their heads over overtime.

Bottom line:
Thousands of technology professionals could be missing out on compensation they deserve, advocates say, while employers could face a higher risk of lawsuits to ascertain whether they're getting compensation right.

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"It's become very complicated," said Jeffrey Tarter, executive director of the Association of Support Professionals, who also pointed to the muddying effect of the shift to round-the-clock tech support. "The rules are pretty close to incomprehensible on this issue."

For employers, the uncertainty could lead to new headaches in calculating who gets overtime pay, and a higher risk of lawsuits to sort out whether they got it right. In addition, industry leaders claim overtime litigation and rules--which are stricter in the tech mecca of California--threaten to undermine the entrepreneurial spirit and economic viability of technology companies.

But worker advocates argue that thousands of tech professionals could be missing out on compensation they deserve, while others could lose overtime eligibility.

Allen Graves, who represents a plaintiff in an overtime pay lawsuit against Vivendi Universal Games, makes the case that many programmers in California making less than the state's statutory ceiling--roughly $46 per hour--are routinely being cheated when they work long hours.

"The vast majority of computer programmers are entitled to overtime pay and are not getting it," he said.

Do pros punch the clock?
Underlying the issue is what tech workers themselves think about earning overtime pay. Historically, the field has been defined largely as professional work, having little in common with jobs that require punching a clock. But that may be changing in era of outsourcing, offshoring and contingent work relationships, said Rob Helm, director of research at analysis firm Directions on Microsoft.

Especially for those computer pros working on a contract basis or through a staffing company, overtime pay looks attractive, he said.

"When you have work, you better get compensated pretty heavily," Helm said. "Because you may be headed for a period when you don't have any."

A growing number of employees are claiming technology companies are violating overtime pay law. In the computer games sector in

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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 )
Reply Link Flag
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 )
Reply Link Flag
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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