If I could simplify the Fair Labor Standards Act and make it easy to understand, I would die a happy woman.
So the last thing I want to do is cause any confusion about wage and hour law, but that may have happened in the Aug. 9 column headlined “It’s wise policy to track hours for private, public workers”.
In that column I suggested that managers should keep track of their staff and stay on top of what everyone is doing by having exempt employees submit weekly or monthly activity reports; but managers should not track the hours worked by an exempt employee. Most positions correctly classified as exempt from over-time regulations are paid a fixed salary regardless of hours worked. Focusing on or talking about how many hours an exempt employee worked could jeopardize their exempt classification.
The argument has been made to me that tracking work activities is the same as tracking an employee’s work hours. That tells me that I need to do a better job explaining what it means to keep track of what exempt staff are doing.
So here we go.
As a manager I know what work assignments I have made and I know that each employee has duties and tasks to complete. It is my job to make sure my employees will meet their deadlines and obligations. To do that I need to know if my employees are falling behind on tasks, having quality problems or if the employee who can’t say no has taken on too many tasks and is now overloaded with work.
I don’t want complaints from customers or other managers because I assumed that employees were chugging along just fine when the reality is that difficult or unpleasant tasks are being ignored while employees focus on the easy or more enjoyable work.
If I am in and out of the office throughout the week, in long meetings or traveling for days at a time I will do my best to check in with my staff. But to stay on top of what is going on I want a status or activity report, weekly or bi-monthly. I want to know that we are going to meet our deadlines and obligations to customers or colleagues.
If some of my employees work from a remote location or telecommute they may not have work to deliver every week. But I need to know if their assigned work is progressing as scheduled.
Staying on top of who is doing what and how the work is progressing allows me to re-assign work if needed or step in and provide training or help an employee get past a hurdle. I don’t want an employee stuck, frustrated and spinning his wheels.
I am tracking who is doing what and how effectively the work is getting done, but I am not tracking work hours. I am focused on deadlines and work quality.
If Steve works like a jack rabbit, is extremely organized and productive, needs little help to produce flawless results and keeps his customers and co-workers happy, I don’t care if he takes long lunch breaks and leaves early every day.
If his co-worker Nick is easily distracted and socializes too much but works slowly and methodically to produce good quality work and delivers it on time. I don’t care that he works late or takes work home; I do care about his work product. (I also care enough about Nick that I will spend time to see if we can improve some of his work skills and get him home in time for dinner more often.)
Exempt employees who are assigned to project teams may be asked to track the time spent working on a particular project, but those hours will be used by the accounting department to allocate costs, not generate a paycheck.
When a company is developing cost estimates or changing their pricing model, the exempt employees may be asked to track the time involved in a work process for a few weeks. But, again, that information will be used by the marketing or accounting department to fine-tune cost or pricing estimates, not to generate a paycheck.
An activity report is nothing but a rolling “To Do” list with comments. A manager can require everyone to use the same format or keep things simple and have employees insert notes and comments into a shared department calendar. One of my former co-workers tracked all of his work, every phone call, meeting, letter and report in an old school composition book; whatever works is fine.
Did you earn your paycheck? If you are an exempt, salaried employee the answer is in your work product, not your work hours.
Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.