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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Furlough

I work in a supervisory position in IT. My employer is, like everybody else, doing some belt-tightening in response to the economy. Among other things, they have announced a series of unpaid furloughs for this summer.

For scheduling purposes, they're being treated as extra (but, of course, unpaid) vacation days: the office will remain open, and individual employees will take their furloughs at different times. My question is, how do we reconcile the concept of the "unpaid furlough" with salaried employees who are usually on call for emergencies? Under normal circumstances, I'm happy to investigate, say, why the email stopped working at 4PM on Saturday. (Well, not "happy," but . . . you know what I mean.) I'd be considerably less amused to get a call on a day when I was "furloughed." The most obvious answer is to schedule things so that there's always somebody on call who's not taking their furlough (just like we do for vacations); and we will of course. But the reality is we're a small shop, and not everybody knows everything about everything. Murphy's Law suggests an inevitable situation where the "right" person to solve a problem will be on furlough. Looking forward to your Evil reply!


One of the definitions of a salaried, or exempt, employee is that they are paid for the job, not by the hour. For that reason, being on call is not a big deal for a salaried employee. (By not a big deal, I mean legally, not emotionally or in relationship to a work life balance.)

But, you're in a conundrum. I'm not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one. I'm sure someone will jump in and let us know if my advice is problematic. At least, I hope so.

Anyway, here's my advice: Let management know that if a member of your staff gets called in when they are on furlough, they will have to be paid. No ifs, ands or buts.

I think you could probably safely pay by the half day, but to be safe you may want to pay by the day. I don't think you can say, "hey it was a 15 minute phone call, we'll pay him for 15 minutes worth of work." That would be dangerously close to declaring someone to be an hourly worker, which would make that person eligible for overtime in the future. I don't think you want to do that.

Try your best to not have to call those people who are on furlough, but let everyone know that you will have to pay if they are called in.

Vacation, by the way, is different because they are getting paid on vacation. At least, that's my opinion.

Hopefully everyone will be able to pull together and the company will do better, so this won't be necessary again.

11 comments:

Hapi said...

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Dreadnought said...

Lawyer chiming in...

DON'T BRING IN THE EXEMPTS FOR ONE DAY.

Not if you don't want to have to pay them for a full week.

According to the FLSA, if a salaried employee works for a single part of a day, the employer must pay the salary for the entire work week.

http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/ESA/Title_29/Part_541/29CFR541.602.htm

"Subject to the exceptions provided in paragraph (b) of this section, an
exempt employee must receive the full salary for any week in which the
employee performs any work without regard to the number of days or
hours worked. Exempt employees need not be paid for any workweek in
which they perform no work."

Note: None of the exceptions cover when an employer shuts down a facility or furloughs any staff.

iamnowonmai said...

Not only would they be risking paying overtime in the future, but for at least 3 years in the past, if the employee is re-classified.

Gene said...

Came here to say what Dreadnought said. You also need to put strict policies in place regarding email, phone calls, the ever-present Blackberry, put simply, anything having to do with the office.

On furlough your exempt employees can do NOTHING that even resembles work or they get paid for the week.

class-factotum said...

Oh, I wish these rules applied to vacation. Both times we have been to Spain and Morocco and on our trip to Hawaii, my husband has brought his computer and checked his email daily. He spent our first night in Madrid working until 4 a.m.

peter said...

I understand the ramifications if an exempt staff person is called into work during a full furloughed week, but I got the impression from the post that they furlough might be days within a week of work (eg: Friday off).

If that is the case, can the time be exchanged with supervisor approval? Say, you end up working half of your furlough day so you take half a day off but still get paid for the full day?

Anonymous said...

I think we're all over thinging this. Here's how this is done to avoid the exempt/non-exempt issue: reduce a person's overall salary (per week/month/or year), then revise the vacation schedule to grant more paid time off. It's a bit of a bait and switch, but...

Olivia said...

If you're a small shop, another option is to have an outside vendor for IT services as a backup. We only have one IT guy, so we set this up so that we can be covered in the event our IT guy ever wants to go out of town, etc. You'll pay more in terms of cost/hour, but no FLSA worries. Plus, the added benefit is that you have another resource in case of some unexpected situation, or a short-term project, etc.

Life with Kaishon said...

Another very interesting situation!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dreadnought...exempt employees must be paid if they work ANY during a week. There is no such thing as taking 1 day unpaid for an exempt employee. You are, after all, paying the person for the job they are doing, not the hours worked! Be very careful here as you are opening yourself up to litigation. Offer them a full week furlough or figure out another way to cut costs!

LFV said...

It's very interesting to see how the furlough rules are being described here. My university has been putting people on furlough this semester [people with higher salaries are furloughed more days than those who make less], but faculty are NOT supposed to let this interrupt their teaching or other duties. My furlough days were scheduled for days that I was not supposed to be in the classroom, but what if I have to answer student email questions, or need to continue working on a faculty committee project?

[This is one of those situations where faculty are caught between devotion to their vocations and the uncomfortable awareness that keeping up with these demands may just embolden administrators to make additional cuts, since "so far, there haven't been any negative impacts on teaching quality or student evaluations...". [sigh]