Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Is It Fair to Discriminate Based on Family Responsibilities?

Ann Crittendon (not to be confused with right wing wacko Danielle Crittendon) argues that while such discrimination is legal, it unfairly penalizes parents and others who are unable to work more than 40 hours a week due to family obligations. This discrimination also affects parents who take advantage of flex time or family leave policies and are then penalized by being moved to the so-called Mommy or Daddy track, or by losing their jobs.

Although I agree with Crittendon, I'm a little uncomfortable at the implication that only those with families deserve relief from mandatory overtime. In corporate America, most employees are salaried and are expected to work much more than 40 hours a week without any extra compensation. We're not just talking about doctors, lawyers, and high powered executives who presumably make large enough salaries that it justifies the extra hours they put in (and who also have a much higher degree of autonomy and control over their hours) - these are $24,000/yr file clerks and data entry drones who are working under strict supervision and with little say so as to when they take their breaks or what hours they work. The 40 hour work week was instituted with clear guidelines regarding professional (exempt) employees and hourly (non-exempt) employees. In many fields these guidelines are being ignored in favor of paying everyone a salary, understaffing, and working everyone for as many hours as possible.

The Labor Department has proposed changes in these guidelines beginning in 2004, but other than increasing the minimum wage necessary to qualify as an exempt employee (a figure which hadn't been changed since the 1970's), the other changes will actually increase the number of employees who qualify as exempt.

Mandatory overtime should be illegal for all employees, not just those with family obligations. And voluntary overtime should be compensated fairly with comp time or time and a half wages. I realize that this will be difficult to enforce in some fields, where irregular hours are the rule, but the trade off of increased paperwork for greater employee satisfaction seems more than worth it to me.

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