A few years ago during my final “real” job, I found myself sitting across the desk from a woman named Lisa. A recent graduate, we had hired her as a marketing and social media coordinator, and I was trying to explain that she needed to attend an event that night after work.
“Will I get paid for it?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “you’re a salaried employee: your work is not tied to hours, so sometimes you’ll have to work more than 40 hours per week.”
“OK,” she frowned, drawing absently on a piece of paper in front of her. “So I can take a day off later this week to make up for it?”
“No, it’s not about hours,” I said. “It’s about getting the job done, which includes this event. If you want to take time off, use your vacation time for that.”
The furrow between her brows was now so deep it was starting to remind me of the Grand Canyon. Honestly, I was having a pretty hard time with this conversation myself. The extra hours required of employees on salary just didn’t make sense. But there I was trying to justify the very policies I had always thought were one-sided in favor of employers. On the one hand, I was just doing my job: articulating the standard practices and expectations of the company I was hired to manage. On the other hand, I had asked the same questions myself and always felt the answer was unsatisfactory.
Why should a company be allowed to make employees work extra, for free?