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So my manager told me this morning "I'm not telling you to work nights and weekends, but I am expecting that that will happen". I asked her what she meant by that and she said "I won't approve any overtime, but I do expect that overtime will occur". I really don't know what this means, possibly because English is not my first language. Can anyone translate this from workplace speak?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Aug 13 at 16:28
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Can anyone translate this from workplace speak?

Basically, your manager wants you to work extra hours without being properly compensated for those extra hours of work. If I were you, I would only do my work during normal working hours and start looking for a new company to work for if you are reprimanded for not working extra hours for free.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Aug 13 at 16:28
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    How is it extra hours if he is salaried and working in the usa and contract only stipulates 40 hr minimum work week for the salary. I don't see nothing about location or company policy. – NDEthos Aug 14 at 21:20
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This is an implied threat:

Work for free, or there will be trouble

Your manager is savvy enough to know that she cannot demand that you work without being paid, but has made it clear that she wants you to. Also, by saying that she's not going to explicitly tell you to do so means that if something goes wrong, she can TRUTHFULLY say "I never told atomizer to work OT"

She has told you you won't get paid. This is shady in the extreme, and depending on company policy and the laws of your country/state, it could be violating company policy, or even illegal.

Do NOT work hours you are not on the books. If something happens, it could go very badly for you. If working OT without it being authorized is against company policy, and you're caught, you could get in trouble.

Depending on the laws in your area, it could also mean that they don't have to pay if you get hurt when you are supposed to be off the clock.

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    +1 - In the US it's wage theft. I'm not sure about other countries. I especially like your point about the potential for personal danger for working off the books. – Joel Etherton Aug 12 at 20:13
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    @JoelEtherton In Germany, for example, any overtime must be paid and overtime hours are strictly limited, too. – Pavel Aug 13 at 5:35
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    @Pavel, not to mention that this would be tax fraud and social security fraud, since presumably they would not deduct their dues for unpaid labour. – Eike Pierstorff Aug 13 at 8:09
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    @Old_Lamplighter - This is not true if the employee is exempt. The FLSA does not apply to exempt employees. That said, employers can occasionally authorize overtime pay for exempt employees. This has to be done very carefully lest the exempt employees be recategorized as non-exempt. If this is done all the time that is a sign that the employees are in fact non-exempt. Occasional overtime pay (at regular time, not time and a half) is acceptable. Uncompensated overtime has to be the norm to avoid having employees deemed to be non-exempt. – David Hammen Aug 13 at 13:42
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    @DavidHammen Then why did the manager say "I won't authorize overtime". There is also no indication that the OP is in IT. Not all wok is salaried or in IT – Old_Lamplighter Aug 13 at 14:18
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There is an alternative take on this though. My contract (in the UK) says explicitly that I'm expected to work however many hours a week, but for project reasons I may sometimes be required to work more hours. This is intended to cover "release crunches", emergency bugfixes, or other pressures which are a fact of life in a high-tech job.

It's possible that the manager is trying to tell you this, and doing a bad job of communicating. Ask her what the circumstances are which would need you to work evenings and weekends.. If it's to cover emergencies, then fine. If it's "normal" every week, then you're being exploited.

The flipside of doing extra hours during a crunch is that you should get something back. If it's not paid overtime, it may be extra days off, tickets to a ball game, or some tangible reward. This may just be something you'd arrange informally with your manager - many people have semi-flexible working hours, and so long as they're doing the required hours, their manager lets them get on with it. The main thing though is that this flexibility has to go both ways.

There is one more case where you'd work extra hours. In all companies I've worked at, there's a level of senior management where you're expected to work to the job and not the hours. That level of management is paid very well, and may include stock options as an incentive. I could foresee a company paying its employees exceptionally well (like 50% above average exceptional) and then expecting them to work to the job and not the hours, in the same way. This would be a formal requirement though, not something informal which the manager is trying to cover up.

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  • Many of my UK contracts outline minimum or typical working hours for a week. The rest of the contract mentions that these will vary if the role demands it at certian times. Is that how yours have been worded too? It varies between companies if the ~38.5 hour "minimum" is commonly stuck to or if a 50 hour week is typical. Ideally there should be a feel of typical working hours extablished during the interview process. I do not get paid hourly, I get paid for doing a roll in a given month. – TafT Aug 13 at 9:01
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    @TafT - yes, most contracts are like that, in my experience. The wording I typically see is "your contracted hours are 9:00 - 17:00 Mon - Fri, but the company may ask you to be flexible about this when required, e.g. in exceptional circumstances, in return for which the company will be flexible with you with regards to time off". The only time that general format wasn't followed was when I worked for a two-letter American IT giant and then the contract was more like "consider yourself lucky to have a job. You will do as you are told. The end." – Spratty Aug 13 at 9:55
  • For an example of a reasonable use of this flexibility clause: My boss recently asked myself and the other web-developer on the team to help with a database migration over the weekend. As a one-off thing, I was quite happy to log onto my laptop from home, press a couple buttons to switch from maintenance to live modes on the website, notify the boss by email then shut down again, it's 20 minutes work at most.. Being expected to work weekends because the company needs the project done at a hard deadline is poor planning though and I'd expect to be richly compensated for use of my free time. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 13 at 14:17
  • @Ruadhan As long as you got 150% or 200% of the time off that's quite reasonable. The problems are companies who tend to "forget" the "overtime costs extra money" part. – Voo Aug 13 at 17:59
  • I worked for a 3 letter american company where the culture was very much get your work done however long it takes. If it took 20 hours or 60 hours it didn't matter as long as it got done. Could be crazy at times but you did have times where 20 was all that was needed which was nice. – Alan Dev Aug 13 at 19:09
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I'm not thrilled with some of the answers and many of the comments, so I'll post an answer.

The OP did not say where or in what field the job was. I'll assume somewhere in the high tech industry, where expectations of employees at least occasionally working more than forty hours in a week with no change in pay are nearly universal. There are some employers that have expectations of employees always working well over forty hours in a week with no change in pay.

In the US this is not "wage theft". Such employees are paid a salary rather than a wage. Positions that pay a minimum salary that varies from state to state (the minimum is almost always surprisingly low), that require independent thinking, and that require professional training (a college degree, for example) are exempt from laws that require overtime pay.

Some high tech employers set seemingly arbitrary deadlines with regard to product releases. The intent is that aggressive but achievable deadlines keep people on task. Overly aggressive deadlines result in employee burnout, but that's a different issue. Meeting those aggressive but achievable deadlines inevitably means at least occasionally working extended hours. And for exempt employees, it inevitably means at least occasionally working extended hours with no bump in the paycheck.

As an extreme example, consider the problem of launching a spacecraft toward Mars. Every other year, a month long window opens up where it is feasible to launch a spacecraft to Mars. Those windows are dictated by Mother Nature (the laws of physics). Meeting that month-long window is a very real rather than arbitrary deadline.

It typically takes many years (sometimes over a decade) to design, develop, and test spacecraft intended to go to Mars. Backing up the schedule from the desired launch window to the many years before when the concept is first conceived places several semi-arbitrary deadlines on initial design, bending metal, running wires, developing software, testing, and launch logistics. Issues will inevitably be encountered along the way, and that inevitably will require crunch time. If employees insist on always going home after working exactly eight hours the vehicle will never launch.

Said employees are professions and are paid a salary rather than a wage. Occasionally working extra hours, and being paid the same, is what professionals do. If that is not for you, if you view that as "wage theft", the solution is simple: Don't pursue a job in high tech.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Aug 16 at 16:11
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If I were you, I would try to get written proof of this, possibly by quoting her in an email and ask for further explanation regarding what she means. You could also fake playing her game and ask the extent of the overtime.

As a side note, I would start looking elsewhere ASAP.

If you can get proof or lack of denial regarding this event, you can bring this to light. Or get some HR or even legal help regarding this.

You must also evaluate if this attitude is present throughout your whole organisation or if it's a local case, and act accordingly.

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    As much as I normally think getting things in writing is a good thing, I don't think it's helpful in this instance. The manager already made the position clear: they want to dodge responsibility and free labor. It's not in the employees interest to make that happen in any way. 1. look for another job, 2. never work off the clock, 3. if reprimanded, make sure that's in writing – stefan Aug 13 at 6:56
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    The whole point of phrasing the request this way is to keep it unofficial. But the last part is good advice: This might possibly be the manager's initiative, not company policy. Worth a thought. – alexis Aug 13 at 8:34
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    Since O.P.'s first language isn't English, O.P. can very easily phrase it as a cultural difference and sk clarification in writting. When it does happen, if it happens at all, O.P. can print the email chain and take it to HR. But there's the risk that the manager will say "I didn't say that". But O.P. can phrase it to also include the case where the manager can deny saying that by requesting further explanation in case O.P. misunderstood the manager. This way, the manager may be on the hook. – Ismael Miguel Aug 13 at 9:23
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    What would HR do? HR is there to protect the company. – DKNguyen Aug 13 at 15:43
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    @DKNguyen HR is definitely there as an agent of the company. However, having such proof may result in any backlash from HR (to protect the company) would fall on the manager rather than the OP. – Michael Richardson Aug 13 at 17:35
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Your boss is saying she intends to steal your wages. You will have to work for free sometimes.

Unfortunately this is not uncommon. You can only decide if you are willing to accept the level of wage theft that the company is intending to do or not. It may be worth putting up with it for a while, at least until you can get something better.

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  • How can it be stealing wages if the employee is paid a salary? Having to occasionally work for longer than average stretches is standard in the tech industry. Being expected to always work a 50 plus hour week, minimum, is standard in some tech companies. The salary, bonuses, and reputation gain are fantastic. The work-life balance? Not so fantastic. Those who want to work in the high tech industry and also want an employer who understands the concept of a work-life balance have to do extreme due diligence in their job search. – David Hammen Aug 13 at 12:03
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    Just because having to work longer than your contracted hours is common doesn't make it right. Working for nothing is by definition having your wage stolen. – user Aug 13 at 13:39
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    I think it depends on how you view your salary. Either you're being paid for the contracted hours exclusively or you can view it that you're being paid month-to-month to keep you on payroll. I am legally employed by my company to perform duties, which they expect will be between 9-5 weekdays. If they tell me they don't need me right now, I can technically be at home, collect a wage and still be on payroll until they need me. on the other hand, I can't start up my own business or work for another company while on payroll. They are paying me to be on call. Not for my time and effort. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 13 at 14:24
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    -1 it's like some of these answers have never heard of exempt employees before – eps Aug 13 at 15:28
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    @DavidHammen That example does nothing to explain why it being expected to versus being told to would make any difference if the person was exempt to begin with. If you're already being paid to work as as the job calls for, then what does it matter if you're expected to versus if you're told to? The way the manager worded things implies there is a tangible difference of some sorts (i.e. overtime). – DKNguyen Aug 13 at 18:35
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I'm aware that there are a lot of good answers, especially those by sf02, who correctly state:

Basically, your manager wants you to work extra hours without being properly compensated for those extra hours of work.

and

Work for free, or there will be trouble

Your manager is also covering his a$$ so that if the company asks why the overtime was authorized, he/she can say "I didn't ask for it, they did it entirely voluntarily".

In this answer I'm going to give you some strategies for dealing with this. Of course the safe approach is to just do the extra work (for no money). That gives you the most likelihood of keeping your job. But if you are not liking the job, or the idea of working for free, and are prepared to go look for a new one if necessary, here are some things you can do.

I am assuming, since you talk about it, that it is a requirement in your company that overtime be approved. If so then you have some leverage, because your boss is deliberately trying to get round company policy, and this is likely to get them in trouble. You can take one of two approaches.

First, if you have a good relationship with your boss' boss, try asking them to clarify the overtime approval policy. Just ask "Is overtime supposed to be approved? I had a conversation with my boss and it sounded like he wanted us to work overtime without approval. Did I misunderstand him?". This subtlely alerts boss' boss that something underhand may be going on. (That's not to say boss' boss isn't on your boss side - try to judge based on their response.) You can also ask the same question of HR.

Second approach is to ask your boss for clarification in writing (writing includes email). Don't do this confrontationally. Just send an email:

I'm not sure I understood our conversation this morning. My understanding is that overtime needs to be authorized by my manager. Can I confirm that you will authorize and necessary overtime?

By the way, don't assume your boss holds all the cards here. The boss may be trying to get the project finished "on time" without having to reveal to their boss that they are very far behind schedule, so they may be vulnerable.

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    I would assume that it is a requirement that paid overtime has to be approved. But what about uncompensated overtime? Whether this is legal or illegal depends very much on locale and job category. That we have not heard back from the OP, who quickly accepted an answer that reflected the OP's original opinion, indicates to me that the problem lies with the employee rather than the employer. – David Hammen Aug 13 at 15:41
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First off, submitting a false timesheet can be grounds for disciplinary action - but generally only for putting down more hours than you really worked. Putting down less hours than you really worked is generally ignored. (The group in your company - if there is one - which tracks project hours and other fiddly/geeky stuff may get all pissy about it, but in general nobody really cares). On the other hand, many people (self included) put down 8-a-day no matter how many hours over 8 we work. (Under 8 I put down what I work and cover shortages with vacation). Generally I (for example) work at least nine hours a day, but in the COVID-stay-at-home protocol we're in that includes taking-dogs-out-to-pee, grabbing-a-snack, feeding-dogs, and going-to-the-mailbox time that I wouldn't do if I was in the office so I figure an extra hour or so a day is reasonably fair. On the other hand, if I was in the office there'd be going-to-the-bathroom, going-to-the-candy-machine, and consulting-with-colleagues (water-cooler) time that I don't do now. So, what's fair and what's not? I don't know...

However, back to the question of "What does this mean?" -

If you are an in-house employee who works for an in-house manager, this means that the manager is telling you "You have to work as many hours as needed to finish the workload I'm going to dump on you, but you won't get paid any overtime for it". This sucks. Work your 40 hours and find another job.

If you're a contractor and she's an in-house manager, this means she's trying to get free work from you. DO NOT do this - she's pressuring you to cheat the contracting house you work for. First, notify the contracting house you work for about this - if they say "That's fine with us" you need to find another job. If they're not fine with this then let them handle it and in the meantime work your 40 hours/week.

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    Putting down less hours than you worked is also fraud in many jurisdictions, one US company I worked for was very explicit about that - they regarded it as "cooking the books" in that when they said Project X generated a profit of $y it wasn't true if there was loads of unaccounted hours that went into it. – Alan Dev Aug 13 at 19:14
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    On the other hand, when company says "This project will be accomplished at a cost of X" and then A) budgets only enough for X/n hours and B) tells managers they'll be sanctioned for going over budget, despite the fact that everyone from the top to the bottom knows it's going to take 2*n+r hours (where r is a random factor) and C) your boss says "8 a day or else", you put down 8 a day. "These people are accountants, Billy". "Are they fun, daddy?" "Yes, Billy - they play all kinds of accounting games. ALL KINDS!". Feh... – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Aug 13 at 22:25

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