I'm three months in as a tech lead for a relatively small (~100 people) but successful and grounded consulting company in a major U.S. city. Due to poor requirements gathering coupled with underestimations by the architect and director, one of my projects hit the ground stumbling.

I've consistently worked overtime in order to try and right the wrongs of other people and get this ship back on course and have only billed my company for 40 hours each week[1]. This act doesn't seem uncommon as a consultant or contractor because we usually sign clauses that explicitly say that overtime work and pay must be approved by your manager. So if you want to get the project back on track and avoid writing spaghetti code under deadline pressure, the choice is to usually work unpaid OT. Ultimately I make a great rate and like the project so it hasn't been a big deal.

Three weeks ago I got a text from the Director saying,

"We really need you to put in 6 hours on Client X but can't afford to take you off Client Y either. If you'd be willing to, feel free to put in extra hours this week."

I understood that to mean, "You've been given permission to bill the company for overtime." and so that's what I did - I logged 46 hours in our timekeeping app for that week.

But when my paycheck arrived, I discovered that I was paid for 46 hours at my normal rate. Apparently in my state, companies can elect to not pay overtime rate to computer-based employees that make over ~$30/hr. Of all the companies I've ever worked with, this is the first one to elect not to pay an overtime rate. After reviewing HR documents, I noticed that they're also the first I've seen to not have any clause in the contract that says we must ask for permission before working overtime. With that in mind, this has completely changed my feelings on working unpaid overtime.

Last week - I had dumped in 56 hours in a final push to get a fantastic client demo out with all the requirements higher-ups promised to deliver on. I had every intention of just billing 40 hours because I didn't want any assumed conflict that comes with bringing up overtime pay at 1.5 times the hourly rate. But now that I know that they don't pay out an overtime rate, I want to bill those hours.

My intuition says the company will ultimately have a major issue with this because when a project is bid to a client, it's under the assumption that I, or my team, is working at periods of 40-hours-per-week. On the other hand, I feel pretty burned by not being paid my overtime rate.

Considering I don't make an overtime rate, would it be a bad decision to charge for 16 extra hours without permission?

[1] United States: any hours billed past 40 hours per working week usually require overtime pay of 1.5 times the employee's hourly rate. Read the whole post for insight into the "usually".

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    There is a lot that’s unclear about this. Are you a contractor or an employee, because you mention “billing” which would suggest a contractor, meaning you get to decide on the terms and then mix in “HR documents”, suggesting an employee.
    – AsheraH
    Jul 19 '21 at 5:19
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    Just to understand this better: You were fine not being paid anything of 150%, but feel somehow betrayed by not being paid anything of 100%? - Not that you should not be paid for any amount or time, if at least to make them realize how much time was going into that project in the first place! Jul 19 '21 at 11:50
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    @JoeStrazzere The direct conversation sounds productive and definitely something I will pursue over just billing the hours. Thank you. Jul 19 '21 at 12:36
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    @I'mwithMonica It seems like the difference is between working overtime voluntarily versus being the requirement coming from the employer. If they ask for it, they should pay for it.
    – Barmar
    Jul 19 '21 at 14:05
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    " United States: any hours billed past 40 hours per working week usually require overtime pay of 1.5 times the employee's hourly rate" - This is not true. This is only true of 'non-exempt' employees. If you are an 'exempt' employee (i.e. a professional salaried worker) then you do not get overtime pay, as you are 'exempt' from the protections of the Fair Labor Act.
    – Glen Yates
    Jul 19 '21 at 17:26

It’s probably not a good idea to retroactively bill them for more for a period you already entered and were paid for. You can, but they may say “no we didn’t authorize that” - and they didn’t. You’ve been working that extra time on your own recognizance up till now - until you got upset about getting paid time and not time and a half. Spite isn’t a good motivator and it’s easy for it to bleed into the subsequent discussion. You are a grown-up, and your contract with your employer doesn’t specify time and a half and you have been working unpaid overtime. None of these things are “them screwing you.”

It’s not that 16 hours you want, anyway, it’s a better mutual understanding about all your hours going forward. “I’ve been working some extra unbilled hours; it was just a couple in the beginning but then last week it was 56 and I want to talk about whether I should be stopping at 40, or working and billing extra, or if there’s hour numbers I should ask permission about, or what? Second discussion, I thought extra hours would be paid at time and a half but it seemed not to be, what’s the policy there?” Listen, don’t blame. Negotiate out a setup that is palatable to you (or start looking for another contract). And you want to start that discussion on a positive note, not with them coming to you saying “what’s with this timesheet?”

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    Even salaried employees are sometimes required to track hours worked. E.g. on some contracts - notably government contracts - strict time accounting is a requirement. BUT in my career a large team made a heavy push to complete work. Management requested that all employees keep and submit records of time worked. In the end, they paid out very nice bonuses - based on hours worked. One of my co-workers didn't keep track and was disappointed to not get a bonus. But from the management perspective, he was in the minority by not working overtime! Jul 19 '21 at 17:45
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    I second all of this, but I'll add that many (most?) companies that pay hourly (whether or not at time-and-a-half) require authorization to bill more than a set amount in a week. Jul 19 '21 at 19:26
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    Even IF a company is trying to take advantage of you, it is to YOUR advantage to approach your boss amicably in advance and determine what they find acceptable and what they don't. I've seen both sides of this: a boss and a company that were well-meaning but got in over their heads with a misestimation (I didn't bill my overtime and I waited to see if they learned from their mistakes -- they did, and they made it up to me later). Another where they were just cheap: I found a better position as quickly as possible and left on good terms, but couldn't have recommended anyone else work there.
    – Forbin
    Jul 20 '21 at 17:17

Don't surprise your boss.

So, you have a contract that states that you don't need to ask for permission before you work overtime, and also that you don't get paid time and a half for overtime. As such, you'd be entirely justified in billing the company for your actual hours worked. It's what both you and the company agreed to when you started work at the company, so they shouldn't have grounds to complain if you start billing them for overtime you're actually working. Heck, it's possible that your company deliberately designed your contract that way to disincentivize both workers from working overtime, and bosses from assigning workloads that would cause their workers to work overtime.

However, I would recommend letting your boss know first so that they don't get surprised. Depending on how formal your company is, you could send them a email like "Hey Boss, I was surprised when I didn't get paid time and a half when I worked 6 hours overtime last week, so I double checked my contract, and I saw that while I'm not entitled to it, I'm also not required to ask permission for overtime. As such, as per the terms of my contract, starting this week, I will be billing for actual hours worked (56 hours this week) moving forwards, rather than just 40 hours. If you'd like to discuss an alteration to my workload or a renegotiation of my contract, I'd be happy to talk with you about it. Thanks, positivecharge8"

  • @JoeStrazzere I think it's because it's a lot simpler to deal with "overtime" at a non-overtime rate. I know its not uncommon at companies where if a salaried worker puts in a ton of "overtime" to help out the team, management may tell that individual to take time off. Similar in this case, "Hey boss, I decided to work 100 hours last week" isn't as big of a deal when not paying overtime rate because then the boss can easily say, "Okay well don't work this week (40 hours) nor half of next week (20 hours)." And now the company can easily "catch up" on what they paid out. Jul 19 '21 at 12:02
  • @JoeStrazzere "choose to get paid for as many hours as they like"? Are you operating under the assumption that I am working 40 hours and asking to be paid for 100? Or are you saying that, as an hourly worker, I shouldn't be paid for each and every hour I put in to work? Jul 19 '21 at 12:23
  • @JoeStrazzere Considering every contract I've ever signed, down from working minimum wage as a teenager to working as a professional adult, has included a clause that, "Permission for overtime hours must be given at the express permission of the manager" - why is it asinine that I would see the absence of such a clause and concluded "I don't need permission to work more than 40 hours a week in order to get this project done by its hard deadline." Jul 19 '21 at 12:31
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    I have worked at several places where there was an understanding with the customer that as much overtime as you were willing to work was fine. As my customer once explained, if the work takes 80 hours there is no difference financially if it is two people working a 40 hour week, one person working two forty hour weeks, or one person working one 80 hour week. It's still 80 hours for the same work to get done. Jul 19 '21 at 22:38

I think this is not as complicated as you are making it out to be.

If you are hourly you should be paid for all the hours you work.

Forget about 1.5x your rate for overtime that won't apply to you, it doesn't apply to many if not most tech workers.

If you work 46 hours you bill for 46 hours. Never cheat and bill for more hours than you work, that is stealing. Likewise, you should never work hours and not bill for them because that's free labor.

If your employer says you cannot bill for more than 40 hours in a week. Then keep track and when you hit 40 hours in a week tell them that you are out of billable hours. They can either give you permission to work overtime or you get the time off. If you have blanket permission to work as much as you want, then just bill however much you actually work.

If you are salary you get paid regardless of how much you work. So if they really want you to work more than 40 hours but only pay you a fixed amount they can put you on salary.

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    +1 this is important. By being the hero and working more than full-time for free, management's perception of reality and their future expectations are warped. This always causes future headaches.
    – spuck
    Jul 19 '21 at 22:23

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