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I work in the finance department of a relatively big corporation that was the victim of ransomware. The servers/applications that my team need were completely off for 7 days because the IT department correctly gave priority to restoring core activities, such as store systems, websites, apps. Due to this unavailability, it was not possible to do proper work, however, all employees were available and trying to connect to the applications (not in a vacation mood). Each department boss has the power to decide whether to pay or not these hours. The boss of my department wants to discount these hours from our paychecks. Is it fair?

To weigh on this matter, some background is relevant:

  • This is in Brazil
  • Employees usually work more hours than are paid
  • It is expected from employees to stay longer hours during some periods of the month
  • I am a salaried worker
  • The boss is asking to consider these days as "justified absence", which means the workers have no penalty (like reducing vacation days, discounts on the 13th-14th-15th salaries) for not showing up to work but the company is able to discount these hours.
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  • 14
    I suspect this is a legal question, and where you live will be very relevant. Sep 10 at 15:54
  • 3
    Ethically it's not fair. But it may be legal.
    – numenor
    Sep 10 at 16:04
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    It is legal to do that, the country is Brazil.
    – putzgrillo
    Sep 10 at 16:45
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    what are you trying to achieve ?
    – Maxime
    Sep 10 at 17:37
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    How does anyone’s opinion on what is “fair” help you? You’re not the one making the decision.
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 10 at 21:24
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it was not possible to do proper work, however, all employees were available and trying to connect to the applications (not in a vacation mood).

The employees were working, they just didn't have anything to do. The best way to keep good employees is to pay them for hours worked. The employees couldn't have planned a hike, or to see a movie, or any other fun activity during the outage. If the outage had ended after 10 minutes they'd have been expected to be available immediately.

When you talk to your boss, don't focus on fair. Focus on the cost of paying a little over-time vs losing good employees, which will happen if you don't pay them!

Even if they "sent everyone home," they employees still did work that day. They commuted, paid for child care, and arrange their lives to work that day. Employees generally count on the money earned from working 5 days a week. A surprise day off isn't really a day off.

Figher Fighters, EMTs, and plenty of other people spend a significant amount of time waiting - they still get paid for it. If you're expected to be available, you are working. It doesn't matter if you're productive or not.

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If your boss asked you to try to connect every few hours then it became your new job for this period and thus it is not fair that you are not being paid.

If your boss told you to take some rest, stay at home and that he would warn you when the systems are back online, then it may be a bit fairer.

In most countries it would be illegal to not pay you these hours given the situation so most people will tell you it is unfair.

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From the context of your post you are probably employed as "CLT" (Brazilian employment contract defined by the government https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consolidation_of_Labor_Laws). If you worked under those hours you are entitled to your compensation. There is no "in between", what your boss is asking of you is completely non-sense. It is nor fair or legal.

With that in mind, I would consider your final objective. Do you plan to keep good terms with your employer? If yes I would consider to just let it go. If not I would advise to seek an lawyer specialized in labor law.

My opinion is that 1 week salary is not worth the hassle of going into legal proceedings. I would advise to let it go and look for employment elsewhere if this is not the only issue you had in this company.

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Is it fair?

Absolutely not. The employees were working, they just weren't working effectively. That lack of effectiveness was not even their fault.

Is it legal?

In Brazil - I'm not familiar enough with labor laws in Brazil to be sure, but probably not.

In the USA - No, this would not be legal here. Once an hourly employee starts work for the day, they would remain "on the clock" until the moment that the employer informs them that they are "off the clock," meaning that their time is now their own to spend as they desire. Very few exceptions apply.

So, no. Unless you were specifically informed that you were on layoff, you were working. And if you were working, however ineffectively, you must be paid.

You added clarification that you are a salaried employee. It sounds like a remote work one. That doesn't change the situation much. Did your employer inform you that due to this IT problem, you were free to leave your place of work (your homes) and do whatever you want? Then they wouldn't need to pay you for any hours/days after that. If they didn't, they would need to pay you.

My perspective as an employer

This is not a legal requirement, but if we have employees show up to work, and we soon discover that they are unable to work, we give them extra hours to compensate them for the time and inconvenience involved in getting here. That seems like a wise practice.

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  • I've read your post several times, and I don't see where you said that. In any case, it doesn't change my response much at all. I will edit my post accordingly.
    – Ariah
    Sep 10 at 20:06
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It seems that as a salaried employee you don’t get paid extra if you work extra, so there is no excuse to pay you less if through no fault of your own you work less.

In the UK your employee could ask you to take holidays. However, one day holiday must be given with two days notice, two days holiday with four days notice etc. So if things break down Monday morning and IT says “we’ll need exactly six working days to fix it”, the company could tell you on Monday that Friday and next Monday are holidays. This Monday to Thursday they can try to find useful work to do, and they have to pay you. (Friday and Monday would be paid holiday).

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  • Joe, so what? It gives the guy a hint what he can look for in his own country.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 12 at 8:14
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Fairness isn't really a part of business. Business is inherently unfair.

So if it's legal to do this in your locale and everything like employee satisfaction is weighed up against cost and this is what they decide to do, then many places will go ahead and do it.

Right now with a pandemic there are a lot of people looking for jobs who'd be happy to get yours. And many businesses have tasked their managers with saving every penny they can or their own jobs security may suffer.

However this situation does seem strange. Ransomware doesn't have this scope, and any good IT team shouldn't take more than a day or two to have things back to normal. Disaster recovery strategies for ransomware are basic. So there may be some hidden agenda.

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    Actually, there are a lot of good IT teams that have taken longer than a day or two to recover from such an attack. There are ransomware out there that can find every system that is connected to the network and wipe them and then wipe any new system that connects up. Only places that have been operating as if they will be attacked at any moment might be able to recover quickly and most places do not operate that way.
    – David R
    Sep 10 at 22:53
  • @DavidR good IT teams see ransomware as a minor problem. I think we differ on what is 'good'. I've had clients get hit and lose a few hours for some people, but I absolutely do prepare and harden networks for all sorts of things. But the scope of this is not normal, web apps? Websites? Store systems? They're not really ransomware targets. For all to be hit simultaneously means it's a ridiculous network or the IT introduced it themselves at admin level. Ransomware only hits what it can access. Or the manager is blowing it out of proportion to further an agenda.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 10 at 23:07
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    Let's take it out of the IT team. For a "relatively large corporation" to operate a hardened network, that requires top management approving a lot of expenses. For most corporations, unless they have been hit already, they don't spend that much. Even a good IT team can be taking over a legacy network with a lot of holes in it. I've heard of malware getting into companies through the printer or the fish tank temperature monitor.
    – David R
    Sep 11 at 14:35
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    @DavidR you don't know what you're arguing about, it costs no more to harden a network in basic terms than not, it's just basic config. They're either designed for it, or they're rubbish. For ransomware specifically it's just a minor inconvenience. Just restore files from backup. If backups don't exist, thats a basic fail for the IT team. No excuses.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 12 at 2:39

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