Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

The U.S. has a strong free enterprise foundation and its laws reflect this. Freedom of contract remains the rule even though it is much criticized in some circles and has been hedged considerably over the years. In employment, the old rule was that you could pretty much fire anyone at will for any reason and, if you did, you incurred no legal consequence. This is pure freedom of contract. In time, this unrestricted freedom came to be deemed repugnant where it bumped into important social policies - for example, that employers not discriminate on the basis of race. Hence, protective laws were passed and these circumscribed the old unrestricted freedom to have pure at-will employment relationships that gave an employer an open ticket to fire people for any reason whatever, even a repugnant one. That said, however, when you get down to the day-to-day employment relationships that most of us encounter, the at-will rules still prevail and, with limited exceptions, it really does remain the case that most people can be fired for any reason at any time and almost always without legal consequence. This may be seen as good or bad but it is the way of life under U.S. law with its strong bent toward free enterprise and freedom of contract.

The same pertains to overtime rules for employees. The U.S. does have a body of protective laws that require employers to pay overtime for excess hours worked, either by the day or by the week. But the historic relationship between employer and employee had a strong bias toward freedom of contract - that is, if an employer and an employee agreed to a certain working relationship, that was their prerogative and the government had no say in the matter. Again, this older form of unrestricted freedom led to consequences deemed repugnant as a matter of social policy (e.g., sweatshops). Thus, laws were enacted to abridge the older unrestricted freedom of contract (wage and hour laws, in the example considered here). But, as in the case of at-will rules, these laws did not disturb the large measure of freedom of contract that formerly prevailed except for the specific situations where a policy judgment was made that the workers were most vulnerable and in need of protection. Thus, U.S. overtime rules apply without question to low-skilled jobs and to low-paying jobs and to jobs where the employees have little or no independence or control over how they perform their duties. But these protective rules can and do peacefully co-exist with an equally important set of rules providing that high-skilled employees, skilled professionals, employees with substantial administrative responsibilities with managerial functions, and like positions are expressly exempted from the overtime rules. The idea is that, in a free economy, as a matter of policy, it is better for parties to retain freedom in defining the work requirements of a position than for the government to dictate protective rules where the parties are not deemed in need of protection. In other words, the employer-employee relationships for such exempt categories are deemed to be healthier if the parties are free to negotiate salary/bonuses or other compensation that is not tied to rigid rules about overtime. The laws let the parties have much more flexibility in deciding how to frame their relationships, and this basically reflects the old-style freedom of contract that has always characterized the U.S. economy. Protections were adopted as deemed necessary but they are limited as a matter of public policy. This can be seen as good or bad but it is the law in the U.S.

What does this mean in practice? It means, for example, that a computer professional can be paid a salary of $100K/yr and be asked to work like a slave, all without overtime compensation. But that same professional, if paid $30K/yr, is required to be paid overtime for excess hours worked, even if that person is on salary. One case is treated as appropriate for free choice by the parties without overriding restrictions; the other is not. And the difference, in this case, turns on the amount of salary paid - the highly-paid worker is treated as being able to protect his own interests while the relatively low-paid worker is not.

Europe clearly has taken a different approach and this too can be seen as good or bad depending on one's perspective. In general, in Europe, the idea of open-ended freedom of contract is suppressed in favor of more sweeping protective laws favoring employees. Whether this leads to a robust economy or chokes enterprise is open to debate but it clearly differs from the U.S. approach.

In this piece, the author criticizes the U.S. employment pattern as, in effect, requiring exempt computer professionals to work for free when they are required to work excessive hours tied to a fixed salary. In making this point, the author admits that his European biases are showing. The "U.S. view," if I can call it that, is not that the worker is being made to work for free but rather that the worker has not agreed to be paid by any hourly measure but rather for an overall performance to be rendered, no matter how many hours it takes. This might be regarded as "slavery," but (taking, for example, the exemption for executives) does anyone really believe that top executives have as their focus the exact number of hours worked as opposed to broader goals related to their job performance. The same can be said of professionals, as many computer professionals look primarily to the task and not to the hourly measure as the mark of their jobs. In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs. For every such executive and professional who would be deemed "helped" by overtime laws that might be extended to apply to their jobs, there would undoubtedly be many who would recoil at the limitations of suddenly not being able to do their jobs without regard to the scope of hours worked. I don't believe that most such employees see their work as "slavery" when they have to work excessive hours. I think they see it as career development. And, in any case, the U.S. law gives such employees freedom to become "slaves" if they so choose for their own reason. It is the old freedom of contract and highly skilled, highly compensated workers in the U.S. retain that freedom to choose, as do their employers.

Work-life balance is very important as well, a point the author emphasizes. He seems to have made that choice later in life (as did I) and I commend him for it. But, while I can exhort others too to strive for such balance, I will not begrudge them the choice to work exceedingly hard (especially as they are first developing in their careers) to achieve other "unbalanced" goals. People do accomplish insanely great things by working insanely hard. If they choose to do this in their work as employees, that is their privilege and, as long as they are highly-skilled and highly compensated, I say more power to them if they do it without the benefit of protective labor laws.




> is not that the worker is being made to work for free but rather that the worker has not agreed to be paid by any hourly measure but rather for an overall performance to be rendered, no matter how many hours it takes.

While it's nice to think of being paid for the completing tasks rather than hours worked, it is less common for people to work fewer than 40 (or some standard number) hours than more. In fact, if an employee was completing his tasks and working only 25 hours a week, many employers will increase the workload, since they aren't making efficient use of the employee.

The reality is that employers like to frame overtime in terms of paying for services rendered but when things swing the other way, employers like to think of things in terms of maximizing utility.


"In general, in Europe, the idea of open-ended freedom of contract is suppressed in favor of more sweeping protective laws favoring employees."

The idea of open-ended freedom of contract only appeals to the employer. There are rarely real incentives for the employee to add contract clauses. I'm living proof that it does occasionally happen but, having been through it, I'd hesitate to say it's at all common.

In the majority, open contracts equal screwed employees due to the fact that the employers have contract lawyers and the employees don't.


>> due to the fact that the employers have contract lawyers and the employees don't.

I think this is the core point in this issue. The employer-employee relationship is an inherently asymetric one (in the vast majority of cases). Anything labeled as freedom of contract or any such thing is only there to favor employers to execute their will without being held accountable for the consequences to the employee/candidate.

The only freedom the employee really has is the freedom to suck up the abuse or leave empty-handed.


>The same can be said of professionals, as many computer professionals look primarily to the task and not to the hourly measure as the mark of their jobs. In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs.

This is true, and there is no problem with occasionally having to do a bit of crunch time to meet a deadline, or even doing the odd extra half-hour reasonably frequently.

OTOH, There is a problem if an employer routinely assigns work that cannot reasonably be achieved within normal working hours; or requires your presence on an 0600 international conference call, but still expects you to work the full 11 hours until your normal going home time; or waits until you've worked a 7.45 hour day before giving you a 4 hour task with a deadline of 0930 tomorrow. All of these are dirty tricks played by managers to get more work done than they are prepared to pay for.

>And, in any case, the U.S. law gives such employees freedom to become "slaves" if they so choose for their own reason.

Do you have the freedom to choose not to become a slave? Of course, you could change career to an hourly-rate one, or try to get a highly sought-after position with a benevolent or wise employer who takes care not burn out their employees; but the former doesn't sound like freedom at all, and the latter still leaves the majority of normal people vulnerable to exploitation.

You might respond by saying that it is no employer's interest to exploit their employees in such a way, after all, a burnt-out employee is useless, and an experienced employee is valuable. However, that is only true if an employer has to live with the consequences of burning out their employees. No one wants to burn out their rockstars, or the stalwart workhorses that will continue bringing good value for decades to come; but who cares about those middle-of-the-road employees in their mid-twenties who are just going to go and work for someone else in a few years anyway? You might as well milk them until they no longer produce, then chuck them out when they become ineffective.


The more likely response is that a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer. This is certainly the case in US software development.


> or try to get a highly sought-after position with a benevolent or wise employer who takes care not burn out their employees; but the former doesn't sound like freedom at all, and the latter still leaves the majority of normal people vulnerable to exploitation.


If there were many jobs available for qualified software developers in the US, which there are not.


Really? Maybe it depends on the specialty, because every single company I know that works with Drupal has more work than they can handle and is hiring developers.


It depends quite heavily what sort of software. Web development is booming. Systems software is busting.


This mentality is a little bit crazymaking (but it may just be that I'm crazy). It's always bad for someone out there. The market is not great for SPARC assembly programmers, or for Turbo Pascal programmers, or for Motif UX specialists.

I don't believe the market actually is bad for people with a modern systems programming skillset (not least because we have trouble hiring those people), but I don't doubt that there are systems jobs that used to be common that no longer are.

Nobody has a license not to adapt. If you're stuck in a crappy job working overtime solely because you're stuck maintaining AIX database applications, it's hard to blame the structure of the job market on that. Get thee to Github.


Several things:

One, I wasn't referring specifically to myself.

Two, I wasn't referring to someone who never learns new things. What company do you work for? We may have spoken before on this subject...

Three, not everyone is in Silicon Valley.


I believe this to be the opposite of true.


The more likely response is that a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer. This is certainly the case in US software development.

And the attitude displayed in this argument, is part of the problem, IMHO. Because it translates to only "rock-star" (as denoted by the "qualified") programmers/employees getting to benefit from such an environment. It's as if, if some person isn't a top-notch in his field, it's ok to suffer that kind of abuse from his employer.

Yet, companies don't run only with "qualified" guys that can easily shop around for new jobs, they also use lots of run-of-the-mill programmers, sometimes even purposefully ("we get a few greats to design the program architecture, and dozens of monkeys to code the parts"). They also should not have to work for unpaid overtime.

(I'm not talking as a sprint to finish before some deadline once in a while, I'm talking as a regular occurrence).


None of the points you're arguing with follow from my comment.

Huh?

You specifically said in your comment that: "a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer".

This is exactly what I addressed.


No, it clearly isn't. You used a series of terms that I didn't that changed the meaning of what I said, then argued against that instead of what I actually said.


Well, what you said is "qualified guys can quit and shop around".

You might not have meant that "thus average guys are ok to suffer unpaid overtime", but I didn't argue against what you "actually said" or "meant to say", I argued about what the above stance implies.

And, yes, for a lot of people, it implies "and screw the average guy".


Here you've used the word "imply" to suggest that any words you choose to put in my mouth must also have been in my head. But, of course, no.


There are two problems with your wall of text.

Firstly your comparison to lawyering is disingenuous, lawyering has the partnership model, you take a load of young naive idiots, you dangle this partnership jackpot in front of their noses and then you work them to the bone doing dull and even pointless work that you bill your clients many $$$s an hour for while the partners take the bulk of that money home. Lots drop out, some make partner, the cycle repeats. It's a 'jackpot' industry.

Programming is not that way, there's a massive demand for programmers, there's not a massive demand for young lawyers.

The second problem is your belief that working long hours = working 'exceedingly hard'.

There's a massive body of evidence that working past 35-40 hours per week that you're actually less productive in the medium to long term past about a month, it's bad for your health and the whole scenario feeds on itself in a horrible vicious cycle as employees who decide to 'opt out' of it get punished with no promotions and lower raises, perhaps even fired.

You see posts like yours trotted out when anyone puts their hand up and says 'hey, why are we working these long hours?'. Worse still in the UK, where a lot of companies also have this ridiculous culture, we have contracts in place specifying the amount of hours to be worked but they are just ignored. The employer is wilfully and knowingly breaking the contract and often lying to prospective employees in the interviews. But what can you do, you took the job and you can't have too many jobs in the last 2 years as people will begin to wonder.

But we have to protect startups and free enterprise right. Because all managers and CEOs know exactly what they're doing and have been taught that creating a culture of long hours rapidly creates pointless busy work zombies where everyone's losing.

And that's where you're argument falls flat on its face. Turns out we're not actually training any managers they just wing it and one of the intuitive fallacies everyone subscribes to is that more hours at the desk means more hours of production that somehow putting more hours means you're working 'exceedingly hard' instead of the truth which is 'exceedingly inefficiently'.

Perhaps it is time for government to step in as the free market's quite obviously failing at it as they refuse to listen to the scientists and worse are totally ignorant about studies done 100 years ago.


You're not arguing with Grellas so much as cherry picking sentences out of his comment and howling at them in isolation. If we extract the signal from your comment --- that partner-track law careers are problematic, that working unreasonably hard is a bad idea for employer and employee alike --- from the emotion, we find a series of arguments that Grellas himself likely agrees with.

In some cases I can guess that he agrees with your underlying argument because he's written comments to that effect in the past (for instance, you can use the search bar at the bottom of the page to find out some of what he thinks of partner-track law). In others, unfortunately, I can guess that he agrees because the very comment you're replying to says that he does.

I think I speak for a lot of people on HN when I ask that you not berate one of the more uniquely valuable contributors to HN for writing "walls of text". He writes differently than you and I; longer, yes, but also much more carefully and considerately. I have never, ever seen him address someone else on HN the way you just did him.


"You're not arguing with Grellas so much as cherry picking sentences out of his comment and howling at them in isolation."

That's certaintly a creative way to put it. But that is what everyone does when they make comments. They respond to things they don't agree with. The use of "cherry picking" in your context seems to indicate taking unfair pot shots. The use of "howling in isolation" brings up an image of a lonely dog in the dead of night. Why is that necessary exactly?

"I think I speak for a lot of people on HN when I ask that you not berate one of the more uniquely valuable contributors to HN for writing "walls of text"."

Then why do you need to say this? If there are people that think that they will downvote, right?

By the way this is not to say I agree with his language. I think it's great that grellas takes the time to write a "wall of text".


If you focus on individual points, then the discussion will degrade. Take the time to synthesize what the overall message from the post is, then respond to that. The danger of responding to individual points, instead of the message, is you start arguing about the trees, not the forest. It's the difference between an honest discussion and a game of "Gotcha!" I admit it's a difficult balance.

I will sometimes pull out individual sentences from a person's post, but only if I feel that sentence is representative of their overall point, or it is a mistaken premise that when corrected, the rest of the post is moot.


Because historically HN favors extended discussion of entire points. Not doing what "everyone does" is the name of the game. In particular, the rebuttal was not on argumentative parity with Grellas' well-tempered text, mere downvotes don't explain that. So, I agree with Thomas here.


You are reading it rather more harshly than it was meant and ironically your comment has probably exacerbated that. While I wish the discourse here could be my primary focus, I can't spend hours researching each commentator, I say what I honestly feel.

It is a wall of text, it's hard to really pick out what he is arguing.

It is the top comment at the moment and I felt it hadn't been effectively challenged and this is an area that I actually feel strongly about. I fundamentally disagree with the conclusion of his comment, which admittedly may just be mine. In my reading this is what I perceived:

Historical employer/employee relationship + Freedom of contract = unshackled startups encouraging hard work (with an overarching definition of a 'professional' and hard work = lots of hours)

There's an overall theme to his comment which is 'it's a factor of the historical way of the relationship between the law and the employer and the employee'. I don't fundamentally disagree with that. But only if we were talking about accountants or lawyers or retail employees or engineers or architects, etc.

I am cherry picking out the arguments as to why this theory should apply. Why is this a particularly compelling argument for the field of modern startups or programming, neither of which have to be shackled by convention as they're not established industries.

Perhaps he does agree with the general gist of my comment, ignoring any unintentional insult, but the comment and the underlying assumptions about what is career development and hard work certainly didn't. I am attempting to demonstrate that there is no link between many 'professional' industries as they operate on different models. I fundamentally disagree with several statements in there like I think they see it as career development and I will not begrudge them the choice to work exceedingly hard (especially as they are first developing in their careers) to achieve other "unbalanced" goals.

There is no choice if that is the culture of the company or even, as it seems in this case, the country.


Grellas writes thoughtful, balanced posts that come out of more years of experience than the median HN user has been alive, in a domain where most of us know little and are in serious need of a trusted guide.

What he wrote above is a high-quality legal and historical and cultural explanation of why programmers don't get paid overtime in the US, something I've often wondered about.

p.s. I'm sure it's true you didn't mean to be rude, but "A gentleman is one who never gives offense unintentionally." By the way, anybody know who said that?


You guys are taking this too far. I've not been around here that long, but I've seen much ruder posts go by without this level of chastising. It seems like the only reason this moral pile-on occurred was because he dared to challenge one of the celebrated community regulars.

I feel you guys trying to belittle someone into humbling himself before your 'special community member' has clogged up this comment section and completely detracted from the entire discussion. On top of that his argument isn't half bad, which can be justly noted by it being one of the top reply comments.


I don't need Matt to apologize or genuflect to George Grellas. But we get maybe one 'grellas comment every other week when we're lucky, and you can be sure that when someone tries to chase those comments away for being overlong, I'm going to call it out (if nobody else does).

It's not a waste of time or thread space to point out the value that Grellas brings to the site. I'm not doing it because Grellas is "special"; I'm doing it because his comments are extremely valuable. I've never met the guy.

The world will little note nor long remember what was said about Matt Manser on this thread (in fact, neither will I), but at least the thread now says "long 'grellas comments are a good thing". :)


Fair enough about clogging. I edited my comment to tone it down.


Hm. Was it Newton? No wait! Gandhi! Nah, couldn't be. Dante? No... maybe it was something they used to say at Burroughs. Oh wait no, I know! Eleanor Roosevelt!

:)

Aside: I have roughly the same feeling for someone who's glazed over all Grellas' posts as I do for someone who's never watched more than a single episode of The Wire: envy. You missed out, Matt Manser! Go read his backlog. It's great stuff. Also 'anigbrowl, 'tzs, and 'dctoedt.


Heh. What can I say? I like attributions.


>>In my reading this is what I perceived: Historical employer/employee relationship + Freedom of contract = unshackled startups encouraging hard work<<

Then you should read more closely. (Sorry, I say what I honestly feel.)

I think the comment you extract in the second to last sentence of your post is much closer to what OP is arguing. "It's not for me, but who am I to tell you that you can't reach for that brass ring?" If you read it in that light, from the perspective that free choice is a good thing, the argument doesn't "fall flat on its face".

>>There is no choice if that is the culture of the company or even, as it seems in this case, the country.<<

This would be true, except such countries don't exist. There is always a choice, even in places with notoriously bad working conditions (China, India, Vietnam, etc.) This culture may exist in some companies, but luckily, in more free market systems, most industries aren't controlled by one or two companies. To wit, even in the legal field in the U.S., there are many positions available that only require 40 hour workweeks.


Become a manager or CEO, and you will sing a different tune quite quickly. At that point you will realize that people want to get tons of money for flagrantly doing nothing, and some of them actually resent their peers who bust their humps so that the company can survive. At every company there are a few who do real work, and many who simply serve time.

Government is driving the US economy into a ditch and has also bankrupted the EU. Apple, by contrast, posts record numbers year over year. I think it's clear who should be dictating best practices to whom.


I've been a manager.

One day you'll realise that you're the failure, not the staff. Either you let the wrong people in your team, you fucked up their motivation or you're a bad manager.


There are bad managers, but there are also many bad employees. Peter Principle notwithstanding, within organizations that must post a profit to survive, those who found companies or rise to leadership roles are generally smarter, harder working, and more disciplined. Your original post does not contend with this.


No they're not. I vehemently oppose any arrogant and childish position that those who found or rise to leadership are special intellectually.

Brains aren't needed to found a company, only balls and drive. I've met plenty of stupid CEOs and managers of successful companies, IQ wise.

I'm sorry, but you need to grow up. People not choosing to found their own company does not make them stupid. Intelligence does not signal competence, more often as you go upwards it's social intelligence that's needed to become competent, not raw smarts.


I believe Grellas' main point is that, outside of a few areas society has deemed vulnerable and thus in need of protection, that the US gives skilled employees the ability to choose and negotiate with freedom.

If, for isntance, someone (even someone holding a JD) does not like the partnership model, they do not have to agree to it. They can seek other employers more conducive to the way they want to work or start their own firm or go into another industry.


It seems to me that you completely missed the point of grellas's post.

The second problem is your belief that working long hours = working 'exceedingly hard'.

That's not really what he said, but even if that's true, nothing in your post refutes that. Someone who is working long hours, is working hard. They may not be working smart, but they are working hard.

Now, the rest of your post addresses why working overtime may not be beneficial to your goals. This does not fundamentally contradict grellas's point that the US model is based around the theory that skilled professionals should have the choice and that they have the knowledge and power to exercise that choice. In the US, if you don't want to work 100 hours a week -- or don't think it's productive -- you can quit. There may be some problems with this view but I don't see any convincing arguments against it in your post.

Lastly, I would like to echo tptaceck's comment that grellas is always informative, helpful, and exceedingly polite. Your disrespect was completely uncalled for.


Sitting at a desk for 10 hours is actually incredibly easy, the only hard part is looking busy the whole time.


I see -- your definition of working hard includes an effort quantifier? I can see that, although I did not interpret the phrase that way. I took "working hard" to be some determiner of resources expended. Time is certainly a resource -- whether or not it is highly valued by the employee is a different matter.


Didn't read all of what you wrote, just one question: if there is freedom of contract, why wouldn't an employee be free to negotiate a contract that can't be cancelled on short notice?


He would be free to do that. But if the market is sufficiently in his favour that the employer would agree to this (rather than just picking the next CV in the pile), he'd won't need this protection: If fired, he can walk across the street and pick up a new job. Thus, he has a much stronger motivation to negotiate for other benefits such as salary, holidays, remote working etc.


You can certainly do this, but you'd have to expect less in other compensation. It seems like most people don't think they will be fired, so they'd rather take more pay without a minimum employment term.


Didn't read all of what you wrote, just one question: if there is freedom of contract, why wouldn't an employee be free to negotiate a contract that can't be cancelled on short notice?

Because the power is on the side of the guy giving the job, not on the guy having to pay mortgage and feed a family with two kids.

Sought after, rock-start, "I'll shop around", programmers are by definition few and far between. And even if somehow everybody managed to be one, their value and "shop-around"-ability would fall too (because there would be many to pick from).

The law must also protect regular joe employees.


What if the guy giving the job has a mortgage and a family, too? I think what you say is a sweeping generalization.


What if the guy giving the job has a mortgage and a family, too? I think what you say is a sweeping generalization.

Yes, but generalization is good. It's seeing what happens in MOST cases.

For one, if you can't sustain a competent business WITHOUT exploiting unpaid overtime, then you don't get to have one. Many failing businesses would be highly profitable if we allowed slave labor but we don't allow that either.

If it provides a competitive advantage to exploit unpaid overtime, regulate it to death so it's not an option anymore. And if it happens elsewhere, import-tax-it or embargo it to death, as you would child and slave labour.

Second, most companies have tens to thousands of employees. So the "guy giving the job" is not a guy, but a private or public owned entity. Far ahead of the negotiating power of the employee. And the guy deciding the "unpaid overtime", is more often than not the one with golden parachute and salary in the upper six or seven figures. So spare the melodrama for them.

You won't find many modern countries were concern over the guy "giving the job" trumps concern over the millions who have to accept a job.


"What does this mean in practice? It means, for example, that a computer professional can be paid a salary of $100K/yr and be asked to work like a slave, all without overtime compensation. But that same professional, if paid $30K/yr, is required to be paid overtime for excess hours worked, even if that person is on salary. One case is treated as appropriate for free choice by the parties without overriding restrictions; the other is not. And the difference, in this case, turns on the amount of salary paid - the highly-paid worker is treated as being able to protect his own interests while the relatively low-paid worker is not."

According to this (and my memory) salary vs. hourly relates to the type of job and duties, and, yes the amount paid. But the numbers you give don't jive with the info from the DOL which is below and indicates that as long as a computer professional is paid over $455 per week ($23,660 annually) they are an exempt employee with respect to overtime.

-------

"Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for this exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and compensation must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations. The specific requirements for the computer employee exemption are summarized below.

Computer Employee Exemption

To qualify for the computer employee exemption, the following tests must be met:

     The employee must be compensated either on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $455 per week or, if compensated on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour;
     The employee must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field performing the duties described below;
     The employee’s primary duty must consist of:
         1. The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications;
         2. The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to user or system design specifications;
         3. The design, documentation, testing, creation or modification of computer programs related to machine operating systems; or
         4. A combination of the aforementioned duties, the performance of which requires the same level of skills.
"

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/fairpay/fs17e_compute...

I will defer to your knowledge on this since you are an attorney so please explain what appears above to contradict what you are saying.


Actually, you are correct concerning federal law. I practice in California where state law requires that a computer professional make a much higher salary (or comparable hourly rate) in order to be exempt. My statement is correct for the context in which I practice, therefore, but I communicated it poorly to leave an incorrect impression about the federal law. Your point is a good one and thanks for pointing this out.


Yea, came here to say this.

<-- Currently making around 30k/yr with exempt status. Though my position doesn't usually demand OT, near release (Software QA) I've had to put in anywhere from 5-10 hours unpaid OT those weeks.

I'm not happy about it. But there isn't much I can do right now, I'm fairly confident I'd be let go if I point blank refused to do any OT. I'm unfortunately in a very expendable position at my company.


You don't have to refuse to do overtime. Just take a comparable amount of time off.

One of the things about salary vs. hourly is (at least the way I used to treat it as an employer) is that a salary employee could take off in the morning for a doctors appointment and they still received the same pay. Or for actually anything. Not so with hourly. Although a passive aggressive way to equalize the situation, it might make more sense than drawing a line in the sand. You could also try to re-negotiate your "salary" to take into account the extra work.


I wouldn't mind doing OT if my company treated it like that.

Unfortunately, if I'm not at work anytime between 8AM-5PM, it's going to go down as either sick or vacation/holiday. No free time around here.

But I understand this isn't the norm, I know my company is in the extreme bad side of this debate.


> In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs.

Aren't lawyers typically paid by the hour?


Legal companies bill by the hour, lower-on-the-totempole lawyers (that don't have a company of their own or that have made partner) are typically salaried employees.


"I don't believe that most such employees see their work as "slavery" when they have to work excessive hours. I think they see it as career development"

That made me laugh.

"Top executives" typically have compensation packages that, to some degree, directly tie their compensation to the overall company performance. Thus, the harder they work, the more likely it is that the company will perform to or above expectations, and thus the more likely it is that their stock or option package compensate them for the "excessive hours". These "top executives" are also incentivised, by their compensation structure, to obtain as much value as possible out of fixed-cost resources.

But, as an average employee, without generous option packages, you start to rationalise the 8th week of working 80 hours as "career development", because the alternative is to confront the fact that you are helpless and beholden and powerless to refuse to work the extra hours without risking your health insurance, or your job.


I work very hard, including overtime. I'm salaried and I don't have profit sharing or equity--because I work for a nonprofit. However, my excellent performance at my job has resulted in promotions that have more than doubled my salary since I was hired. So to me it seems that my hard work did result in career development.


Private health insurance is really not that hard to buy. Just save up, buy it, and quit if you have better options. If you don't, if this is the best out there for someone with your talents, why exactly are you complaining? You chose to work "80 hours", and you can choose to work less.

99% of the world would give their eyeteeth to do what we do, in which the gravest professional hazard is spilling our lattes on our Macbook Pros.


You're not helpless and beholden. There's just simply always a smaller fish.

If I turn down the job that requires 60 hours a week, they will likely find someone who is willing to do that. It's partly from a week job market, partly because people are so bad at understanding their own financial situations, and partly because the availability of financial leveraging systems like financing and credit.

And, of course, a company that's willing to take on an employee who's willing to work 20 unpaid hours a week probably also has a lower level of quality demand on a per-employee basis. What's particularly infuriating about this is that they could probably pay a more qualified candidate more money and get better work, and yield the results of two poor candidates. Essentially, companies are stepping over dollars to pick up dimes, and execs are laughing all the way to the bank. How pointless.


> You're not helpless and beholden.

For many people, especially those with families (not to mention those with family members with medical issues) the healthcare issue really does leave them beholden. It also stifles entrepreneurship.


Then instead of regulating wage and hours shouldn't we focus on providing affordable healthcare (including coverage for preexisting conditions). If healthcare is the barrier to fluidity on the supply side then this is where we should focus our efforts.


If you aren't starting a company because you can't get private health insurance, you are probably not resourceful enough to be a successful entrepreneur. It is just not that hard.


It's a crapshoot. Dirt cheap for some, out of reach for others. Some people have been blackballed by the entire industry for the sin of developing a serious condition—the underwriter finds an excuse to weasel out of the coverage you thought you had, and then you can't get it ever again at any price. Group plans are a lot more likely to be available and to uphold their end of the deal.


Would they keep their job if they refused to work more than 40 hours? Is there a 40 hour a week job out there that pays and furthers their career comperably? If not, I don't know what to call it other than career development.


"Is there a 40 hour a week job out there that pays and furthers their career comparably?"

The defense industry in the US is like this. It is illegal for a company to have employees work more that 40 hours a week without overtime pay. The rationale is:

If Company A has a company culture of all employees working 60 hours a week and Company B has a corporate culture of working 40 hours a week, Company A could charge the government less for the same amount of work and thus would win more contracts. The government recognized this would create an customer incentive for companies to "encourage" their employees to work longer hours. So the government made a law that Defense contractor employees must be paid overtime for any hours more than 40 per week. And in my experience, no manager will pay overtime so most non-manager level people really don't work any more than that.


This is not true at all. I work in the defense industry and their is certainly not any law requiring my company to pay me for overtime. I think what you are referring to is the fact that any hours worked on contracts must be billed to the government. Say a company receives 1000 hours to do a job and an employee works on the project 80 hours per week. At that rate, the government will only pay for 12.5 weeks of work(1000/80), not 25 weeks.

This prevents the problem you mention, but it still isn't good for the employee. It does create an incentive for the company to encourage their employees to work more. If they charge for 80 hours in one week, but only pay the employee for 40 the company just made a bunch of extra profit at the employee's expense.


The Federal Acquisitions Regulations 37.115 Uncompensated overtime.

37.115-2 General policy.

(a) Use of uncompensated overtime is not encouraged.

(b) When professional or technical services are acquired on the basis of the number of hours to be provided, rather than on the task to be performed, the solicitation shall require offerors to identify uncompensated overtime hours and the uncompensated overtime rate for direct charge Fair Labor Standards Act—exempt personnel included in their proposals and subcontractor proposals. This includes uncompensated overtime hours that are in indirect cost pools for personnel whose regular hours are normally charged direct.

(c) Contracting officers must ensure that the use of uncompensated overtime in contracts to acquire services on the basis of the number of hours provided will not degrade the level of technical expertise required to fulfill the Government’s requirements (see 15.305 for competitive negotiations and 15.404-1(d) for cost realism analysis). When acquiring these services, contracting officers must conduct a risk assessment and evaluate, for award on that basis, any proposals received that reflect factors such as—

(1) Unrealistically low labor rates or other costs that may result in quality or service shortfalls; and

(2) Unbalanced distribution of uncompensated overtime among skill levels and its use in key technical positions.

-https://www.acquisition.gov/far/current/html/Subpart%2037_1....

Fair enough it isn't legally required. However it is formally discouraged by the government. Also, my particular employer explicitly discourages unpaid overtime and thus it doesn't happen often.


Can you cite a source on that? As a software engineer for a major defense contractor who works closely with other major contractors, I can say with some degree of certainty that being paid overtime is certainly not the norm, and 60 hour weeks aren't terribly uncommon during crunch periods. We have to report our hours accurately, but they've always been pretty clear that we're exempt employees and so they're under no obligation to pay us overtime. (They sometimes will, at a manager's discretion, though rarely is it 1:1 for hours worked)


Turns out it isn't legally obligated but it is explicitly discouraged by the government in the Federal Acquisition Regulations https://www.acquisition.gov/far/current/html/Subpart%2037_1....


Mind to edit your orignal comment to reflect this? Thank you.


When I worked at Boeing, the engineering union had negotiated that employees were to be paid overtime. I don't know if this only applied in Seattle (Washington is a union state, unlike most others where Boeing has employees) or not.


The problem I see with many of these lines of thought are that they grossly over simplify the effects of situation and environmental factors. Even if there exists a comparable job with better hours, its existence doesn't always make it a viable alternative. Is being stuck in a mortgage or with a sick spouse license for an employer to demand you work 70 hours a week?


Look at it from a mechanically rational perspective. Your protagonist has a mortgage and a family and we're on a tech message board so let's stipulate that this is a technology worker making the average wage for, say, a programmer in Grand Rapids, MI. That's $73,000 (before benefits), or $35/hour for 40 hour weeks.

You ask, "is being stuck in a mortgage with a sick spouse license for an employer to demand 70 hours a week?". Well, at 70 hours a week, our protagonist is effectively being paid $19.78 per hour. That's almost $2 higher than the average income of employees in Grand Rapids, MI.

What you're effectively asking is, should it be lawful for employers to pay people less based on their situation?

On the one hand, there are plenty of circumstances where it clearly isn't lawful to do that. For instance, you can't pay people less because they're of Indian origin, or because they practice Judaism, or because they're female.

On the other hand, the circumstances of individual employees play into compensation decisions all the time in every job. You are effectively being paid less because of circumstances mostly out of your control any time you take a job outside of San Francisco or New York; the premium earned by technology workers in San Francisco exceeds cost-of-living adjustments significantly.

So where do you draw the line? Is the line "you can't be paid less because of illnesses in your immediate family?" I'd agree with that rule, but how often does it really come into play?

For what it's worth, speaking on behalf of an employer: we don't like 70 hour weeks. We work hard to keep them from happening and, for the most part, people get out the door here in time for dinner (it's hard to say, because some people stroll in the door just in time for lunch). Making people work overtime here, paid or not, is a bad idea because it makes it hard to retain talent. I'd like to think that if there was an economic rationale for overtaxing our team, we still wouldn't do that because it's immoral... but my morals haven't been tested on this issue, because it would be irrational of us to coerce people into working overtime.


I'd imagine the only time you'd see an economic rationale for systematically overworking your team would be in a moon shot / burn the ships scenario, neither of which seems necessary for a service company.

Perhaps if the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a buyout in the tens of millions you'd be tempted as a part owner. Even then the front-line employees being whipped would be unlikely to get a significant piece of that pie, no?


Long hours are the key to profitability, as Philip Greenspun put it:

"From a business point of view, long hours by programmers are a key to profitability. A programmer probably needs to spend 25 hours per week...Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week.... A product is going to get out the door much faster if it is built by 4 people working 70-hour weeks (180 productive programmer-hours per week, after subtracting for 25 hours of coordination and structure comprehension time) than if by 12 people working 40-hour weeks (the same net of 180 hours per week)."

"If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."


Greenspun wrote that about a software consulting business, too. Think about what else has to be going wrong with a consultancy for it to make sense for people to work 70 hour weeks. Hint: serious clients pay in 40-hour person/week increments.

Anyways, it's undeniable that there's a pervasive culture of 60-80 hour work weeks in tech companies. I think it's bullshit; I think it's bad for the employers, who get substandard burnout work and become a revolving door that spins even faster for more talented team members; I think it's bad for employees for obvious reasons.

But I also think (a) a slice of cheese shouldn't cost $200 and have an end-user licensing agreement attached, and (b) we don't need to outlaw that practice.

When you read articles about unfair labor practices at tech companies, I'd like you to keep in mind that software developers are the. worst. at reasoning about the valuation of their own work. Software developers think Stack Overflow is worth maybe a weekend's worth of programmer time because it's just a big message board. The world probably does look a lot more unjust when you look at it through a prism of discounting your own value by 50%-150%.


I was going to write up some big rebuttal but I realize now we are arguing from very similar positions.

1.) Developers don't understand what they are worth 2.) The culture of 50+ h/week working is pervasive

I think the point where we disagree is about the optimal behavior from the companies POV. Based on the exclusivity of existing condition eligible health care and collaboration by major tech firms to illegally collude to prevent competition for work, I don't conclude that it is a system which will fix itself. However, the only viable solutions I can imagine would be unpalatable to too many programmers to be enacted.


We are in violent agreement about the impact of health care on the labor market. I think the ideal system for startups would be nationwide single-payer.

Having said all that (and established some of my statist liberal bona fides), I do not think abuses of at-will employment or overtime exemption demand legislative fixes; in particular, I think that it's far more likely that it would harm startups (and the employment market in general, for employees and employers) to regulate overtime for salaried employees or, worse, termination requirements for employees.


> "If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."

Wow! What a horribly shitty attitude. If your "average programmer" isn't spending their every waking moment at work they're not a good programmer?!? Employers with attitudes like that deserve a serious atomic kick in the balls.


He got one. Read the story of Ars Digita sometime...


> Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week

There is plenty of studies done on this that shows that you can get an increase in productivity by working more hours for a short time, but that if you go over ~35h/week for a longer period of time, the productivity drops and some overtime might actually result in negative productivity.


If it takes you 25 hours for "coordination time" you have serious structural issues in your business that need to be addressed. It should really be more like 0-5 hours.


That only works for a short time. People do not produce good work for extended long weeks.

My business strives for a mix of long and light weeks to compensate.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: