So a friend of mine this weekend lamented one of the changes in his employment that happened recently. It got me thinking whether or not you can consider that acceptable.

He works and lives in the US (Michigan to be specific)

Up until around 2 months ago, he used to have a quite lengthy commute. About 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Then, 2 months ago, he moved closer to company premises. Now his commute is about 10 minutes.

His employer (a mid size company) as a result is now forcing him to work 2 hours of unpaid overtime every day, to "keep the active time fair" between him and his colleagues, who supposedly all also have a longer commute. Neither he nor his coworkers got a rebate in hours worked in consideration of their commute.

My initial reaction was that he should start looking for a new job immediately, but according to his experiences practices like this were usual at his 3 previous jobs (didn't affect him at the time but his colleagues).

Now, I'm from Germany, so I obviously have a completely different cultural perspective on this. Is this normal for the software development industry in the USA? (Also feel free to take Michigan into account) If not, what should my friend do besides finding a new job?

Update: From what I've heard from him as of couple of weeks ago, he complained to his manager about the policy - which was kept as is despite his complaints, and he was let go for insubordination a week later. He's now got a new job somewhere else in the area he moved to.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    May 23, 2016 at 22:00
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    If he's paid hourly, requiring employeees to work unpaid overtime is illegal.
    – DLS3141
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:12
  • Thanks for the update. I am glad that his story had a happy ending
    – Mawg
    Mar 11, 2020 at 6:25

8 Answers 8


Your friend is being had, if I was him I'd just refuse, do my normal hours and go home. The company can then decide what they want to do about it. In any case I'd be looking for a new job, so if they contemplate disciplinary action over it, they better hurry.

Usually in nominally grey areas (and this just barely qualifies) standing your ground and calling their bluff works well.

Quite important is how you frame your initial refusal, my strategy is to treat it as a joke which gives them an easy way out and we can all have a laugh and be friendly. Getting upset and being too serious and mentioning lawyers etc,. can put someone's back up and although it might come to that in the future, initially it's better to just try and defuse it. So at first I'd just laugh and make a joke out of it.

"Nice one boss, but if you're going to shaft me can you at least use some lubricant." Judgement call on how you word it of course.

If the boss insists they're serious then it's best to be upfront so he knows where you stand which in my case would be there's no way I'm working an extra ten hours a week for the same pay. So something like (judgement call on wording).

"Na... that's just not going to happen boss." and I'd start job hunting the same day while he works out how to handle it. I've never found beating around the bush and expecting people to read your mind to work well in these situations.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. May 26, 2016 at 1:48
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    "Sure thing boss but I'll start looking for a house 5 hours drive away."
    – Murphy
    May 26, 2016 at 15:23
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    If the employee moving closer is only going to benefit the employer, then the employer should subsidize the cost of the move I would think... I'd gladly work an extra two hours/day in return for them covering my rent/mortgage payments. :D
    – Perkins
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:43
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    @Murphy haha! hilarious!
    – bobo2000
    Feb 20, 2017 at 15:24
  • that what you call a micro manager
    – Lightsout
    Nov 23, 2017 at 1:09

This is an odd one, but the answer may be complicated.

In the upper peninsula of Michigan there are places that enforce strict environmental rules to protect the community and closed habitat. These places have rules like "no cars" or "mass transit only". These locations have gotten creative with how they compensate employees for their travel time. This is unusual because unlike most cities, transportation is not on the employee, and they can't usually "move closer". You go when the ferry, horse team, or electric bus goes, and that may only be 2 times a day.

There are also other parts (Mackinac Island for one) that ban cars outright.

The real trick are that these are usually smaller towns and don't really have a big business culture. But it does mean having to adjust to the area a bit.

For example, I could see. "We offer 20k a year for a 40 hour work week, but we understand you're coming by ferry so we don't expect you here till 10am and you can leave at 4pm to catch the evening ferry" turning into "But you live here now, 9am to 5pm, you don't need to catch the ferry."

In which case I think the request is totally reasonable. They were effectively paying you to sit on the ferry because it was "the cost of doing business" in that area. Now they're not willing to pay for you to "sit on your couch at home" just because you moved closer.

If on the other hand you were to work 40 hours and now they want you to work 50 hours, that's a bit much.

To me this sounds like your friend "shortened" the story quite a bit, and is leaving out some important parts. They may have to "work" more hours because the company is no longer going to pay for the ferry trip the employee no longer needs to take, but that doesn't mean it's "overtime".

What it really comes down to is; was the company compensating its employees for a long, or time consuming commute, and now refusing to compensate this employee because they are not making that commute (totally fair and IANAL — legal) or are they trying to force him to work a 10 hour day because he is closer (not fair, not IANAL legal)?

Some things the employee could try are

  • taking a three hour lunch. If they are trying to get people that live closer to cover time that that people further away are not able to do, then maybe he can suggest a really long lunch to even out the time and give the company what it needs. Of course that will depend on if that has value to the employee.

  • convert to 4/10 hour days. This is fairly common, and may be worth it. Again, it gives the company the time coverage, but the employee gets what they need too. Time off.

  • Come in early/leave early or come in late/leave late. Again, if the company is just trying to get coverage, they may be willing to have the employee start OR stop in different times to keep an 8 hour day, but still get that coverage.

In short, it's not odd that a company would need to make some kind of adjustment for its environment, specially in the UP. These adjustments usually allow for workers to get compensated for the travel they need to do to get there, because it's not trivial. In these companies it's common to have "close" workers and "far" workers. Close workers not eligible for the compensation for the far workers, and close workers expected to work different times than the far workers to accommodate for environmental restrictions. It is however odd to ask a close worker to work for more hours then a far worker. But due note that a far worker may be considered as "working" when sitting on a ferry waiting to get to work. Close workers may also be required to "fill in" more frequently the far workers, because frankly a far worker may not be able to get there. Usually this is accompanied by some kind of flex time though.

In any case, on salary, if you're supposed to get 40 hours, then normal operations should result in 40 hours, though some special circumstances may come up that mean you're working 50 this week. But that should be a rare thing and not a normal thing.

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    Take a 3-hour lunch? May 23, 2016 at 18:52
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    If the company wants you there from 7am to 6pm and your stuck on an island with no way off, what do you recommend? Go home and chill come back. 7am to 11am -> go home, play xbox -> 2pm to 6pm. Again it depends on if that has value to the employee or the company, but it does happen.
    – coteyr
    May 23, 2016 at 18:55
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    Where in the UP are there cities like that? May 23, 2016 at 23:34
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    Also an interesting note, Mackinac island has some of the best high speed internet via cell towers.
    – coteyr
    May 24, 2016 at 2:24
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    Do employers bundle the "travel allowance" into the salary? I would have expected it to be mentioned separately in the offer letter and the salary statements. In which case, OP could just give up the travel allowance.
    – Masked Man
    May 26, 2016 at 20:01

A long time ago I had a relative who worked for a company that said work started at 08:00, and that employees would not be paid for anything done before that. Because he took the train to work, he arrived 30-45 minutes early; if he took a later train it would be cutting it too close.

So he sat in the lobby reading before he would go into the work space a few minutes before 08:00. Management complained that he looked like he was goofing off, but he pointed out that they weren't paying for his time, so they couldn't direct his activities. Eventually they amended the rules to allow flex hours.

If I was confident in my ability to either avoid getting in trouble or my ability to find new work, I would start goofing off during the "commute time". At first I would wait until everybody else left at the end of their day, but I would start having these goofing off moments while a few were still there; I would make personal phone calls, read a book, etc. If asked I would say that I was now commuting to home. Hopefully the folly of it would become obvious.

No this is not normal. I have seen fixed start and end time due to shift work, I have even seen shifts for programmers. But I have not run into places that dictate longer hours to balance commutes. The state department of labor might be interested in the situation because they would have a company dictating hours that must be spent with their but in a seat, yet claiming salaried because the employee can manage their own work hours.

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    This kind of passive-aggressive behaviour isn't the way to go in my opinion. The request is so insane that OP('s friend) should take a much stronger stance against this.
    – Lilienthal
    May 23, 2016 at 12:02
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    I would strongly recommend against passive aggressive initiatives. It will only annoy people. May 23, 2016 at 12:04
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    goofing off during work is just a bad idea. probeply resulting in an early Termination of contract and then sitting on your bum without a Job, lovely! And shouldnt the last paragraph be the first? May 23, 2016 at 12:17
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    Yes, let the Department of Labor know ASAP. Complaints against employers can take weeks to be resolved and you want every one of those days to count in your final tally when calculating damages. You also don't want anyone asking, "Well, why didn't you say anything before?"
    – Pedro
    May 23, 2016 at 12:35
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    This answer is a bit crazy but I had a good laugh with the this is me, commuting home right now while goofying around behavior. Surely not recommended though May 23, 2016 at 15:36

Your friend could try to point out the flaw in the argument:

Given that I am paid for 6 hours' work, if I lived 3 hours away, making a 6 hour round commute, would you pay me for just travelling to and from the office?

This exposes the silliness of the employer's argument. I'm sure the employer will back down.

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    Logically correct, but it’s been my experience that unreasonable employers like this are not interested in rational debate. The most likely response would be, “Never mind the lip, just do it if you want to keep getting a paycheck.”
    – VGR
    May 23, 2016 at 18:03
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    -1 for your last sentence, which is clearly false.
    – user42272
    May 25, 2016 at 18:45
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    ...and sorry but this is just stupid. What happens here is you agree to this type of logic. By the way, the boss may as well just say "sure, that's fair" and the both of you are done with it. You've already lost as soon as you open your mouth to engage this.
    – user42272
    May 25, 2016 at 18:47
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    Your answer could be improved by deleting it :) in the meantime I'm happy to downvote and leave comments explaining why this will backfire. I've upvoted several other answers and have nothing to contribute on top of those.
    – user42272
    May 26, 2016 at 14:06
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    Yeah, I won't bother feeding the troll anymore...
    – user27483
    May 26, 2016 at 14:34

No. Even in the US, this is not normal at all! I'm sure your friend knows this. Would he have moved had he known what he would have been in for? I doubt that. His company is acting in very bad faith.

In the US, top tech companies actually reward you for moving closer to your workplace. That's what they do, they reward you for the behavior and the extra expenses they want you to take.

Facebook, for example, is a great example of that. Palantir is another example. They'll pay for a chunk of your rent if you can get a place within a specific distance of the company. Obviously, this means the rent has skyrocketed in those areas, but those companies do not care about that. And the net result is that many Facebook employees have moved near Facebook, or are renting a room near their work during the weekdays, only to go back to their homes on the weekends.

Is this company paying his rent? Did they pay his moving expenses? At this point, your friend is just getting bullied it would seem. Is your friend in a protected class by any chance? If he is, then he might have a case for discrimination since this is such an unusual demand.

In any case, if they want to fire him because he moved, let them. He can't allow them to set this kind of precedent. An employee must be willing to draw the line somewhere. Because if there is no reasonable line the employer is unwilling to cross, it will never end.

Second, he should look at the ulterior motive of whoever thought of this ridiculous idea. I wouldn't be surprised if that person also lived far away and is doing this because he would hate it if he gets pressured into moving closer as a result.

Furthermore, now that some of those gains of the move made may be offset by this stupid decision, the added recurring expense of living closer to the company may no longer make financial sense to him, and perhaps he should consider moving back.

If they don't want a well rested software developer, or if they want an employee who calls in sick more often, or an employee that can't get in because of a snow storm, that's on them. They are setting a bad precedent for the entire company by doing this to him.

And from now on, your friend needs to keep self-disclosure to a bare minimum, or to nothing at all, because it seems anything that he says about his personal life may now be used against him to increase his hours, or decrease his pay, or generally try to take advantage of him in some small but idiotic way. Here is a book on assertiveness that may help him with that part.

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    I'm not sure about the idea of moving further away, unless it suits the employee themselves. Otherwise it seems like both the employer and the employee are losing out, but nothing is gained, as I don't think the employer will learn their lesson that way? From a self-interest or an genuinely altruistic perspective this section of the answer doesn't seem to make sense to me at the moment. May 23, 2016 at 9:55
  • Is it better now? May 23, 2016 at 10:49
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    "... your friend needs to keep self-disclosure to a bare minimum, or to nothing at all ..." While that seems good advice in the general case here, every employer I've worked for requires you to keep your address info up to date.
    – GreenMatt
    May 23, 2016 at 13:15
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    Companies that pay you extra to live closer are the exception to the rule. 99.9% of us do not work at those companies.
    – stannius
    May 23, 2016 at 19:56
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    To add more intimate knowledge - FB developer is one of the most sought after jobs in the world, and yes they treat you great. Palantir is known for stupidly stressful working conditions, you're pretty much expected to live close so that your commute doesn't interfere with the hours you're expected to work there. Two very misleading examples for very different reasons.
    – user42272
    May 25, 2016 at 18:50

How many hours was he working before? I mean, if when he had a long commute the company gave him a break and let him work less than 8 hours, and they're saying that now that he has a short commute, there is no longer a reason to give him this special break, I'd say that's reasonable.

But if he was commuting 2 hours and working 8 before, and the company says that now that his commute his 10 minutes he must work 10 hours, no, that's just ridiculous. I've lived and worked in a number of different places in the U.S., and I'm presently working in Michigan, and I've never heard of such a thing.

If he moved again so that he was now 3 hours away, would they count his 6 hour round trip against his 8 hours and let him work just 2 hours per day, while paying him full salary? I really doubt it.

It occurs to me that if there were two people working on a project, and I lived 10 minutes away and the other guy lived an hour away, and there was some crisis that the company had to call someone in on a weekend, and the boss called me and said, "I called you rather than Bob because you're so much closer", I'd probably accept that. There's reasonable taking advantage and unreasonable taking advantage.

As to what to do about it ... As with any conflict with the boss, I wouldn't start out with threats of law suits or contacting government agencies. You'll likely lose your job, so you'd better make sure that anything you win in the lawsuit is worth losing the paycheck. I doubt I'd sue an employer for anything less than failing to pay me, or for something where it's a matter of principle, like the company punished me in some way for my political positions or religious beliefs or something.

My first response would be to just not do it. If the boss doesn't push the matter, you win.

If the boss does say, "Hey, I told you I expect you to work 10 hours a day", I'd politely say that when I took the job, I was told that the normal workday was 8 hours. I might point out that if I moved 3 hours away, I wouldn't expect the company to subtract the commute time, etc.

If he continued to push, I'd talk to his boss.

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    Regarding the special break: the employer says it's "to "keep the active time fair" between him and his colleagues, who supposedly all also have a longer commute". So yes, they are claiming that everyone's working day is 10 hours including travel, and that since he now lives nearby he no longer needs so much travel subtracted from his working hours. It's almost certainly false on the facts (I doubt that everyone has the same travel time, but they probably all have the same office hours), never mind being an incredibly unusual principle. But that's what they're saying. May 23, 2016 at 17:46
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    OP states it's unpaid overtime. My general suggestion in any case is: don't work unpaid. Ever. Under any circumstance!
    – Josef
    May 24, 2016 at 9:12
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    @Josef - Your suggestion would require the OP's friend to not only leave their job but avoid any salaried, full-time job period. If you only ever want to work as a contractor or take lower paying hourly jobs, that's fine, but it's not reasonable to expect that everyone will be able to do that.
    – BSMP
    May 24, 2016 at 15:45
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    @josef If you get a salaried, as opposed to hourly, job, you are not paid by the hour but are paid a fixed amount per year. It's expected that you will put in unpaid overtime when necessary. If you're not willing to do this, you're basically writing off having a salaried job.
    – Jay
    May 24, 2016 at 18:44
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    "But why would you care?" -- well, you'd care at the point where you're comparing two different jobs with different salaries and different time commitments because one of them asks for way more unpaid overtime than the other. For me it still wouldn't be the rate per hour that's the most important metric. But there are huge cultural differences here, in the most of the EU, most salaried employment is on the expectation that the salary covers basic contracted hours and overtime costs extra. More US salaried employees are running an all-you-can-eat buffet with the employer as the customer ;-) May 26, 2016 at 12:26

Salary or hourly?

As others have already indicated, this is a violation of Michigan (and federal) law for hourly workers.

If he can't convince management of this, then I'd report to the Michigan Department of Labor, which can help him get all the back pay for hours already worked.

Obviously there is some risk to reporting, so pull this trigger with caution. (It would also be a violation of Michigan law to fire a worker in retaliation, but there are clearly other ways to make your continued employment less than ideal.)

  • They should immediately call the Department of Labor. They can anonymously speak with someone about the situation and explore options. May 25, 2016 at 15:28
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    He's a software developer, so very likely is considered exempt.
    – Joe
    May 25, 2016 at 18:25
  • worked -> worker, probably. May 27, 2016 at 23:20
  • And the OP lives in Germany, and so probably does his friend. If this is true, that would make your answer not applicable to the situation. May 28, 2016 at 11:55
  • @PaulHiemstra OP lives in Germany, his friend lives and works in Michigan, US.
    – BradC
    May 31, 2016 at 14:40

Assuming your friend is an hourly employee, this is illegal under federal laws. If the employer does not change their policy to comply with the law immediately, the employee should track their exact hours worked everyday and document it, when they eventually leave the company (perhaps years later), they can then sue for the lost wages. Be sure to document that they have reported to the employer their actual hours worked and the nature of the work they are doing. I would also encourage this employee to let their colleagues know about this policy.

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    Are you a lawyer? Because this sounds alot like legal advice
    – Magisch
    May 23, 2016 at 18:40
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    This is only true if the employee in question is a "non-exempt" employee. If you are "exempt" and on salary, then there is no legal protection of hours worked. May 23, 2016 at 18:43
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    If an employee is allowed to work unpaid overtime (i.e. he's exempt from overtime rules) then this is perfectly legal. Stupid, but legal. Please don't give legal advice unless you can back up your claims.
    – Lilienthal
    May 23, 2016 at 18:43
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    @Lilienthal. There is a difference between being allowed to work unpaid overtime and even being expected occasionally to do so and being required to routinely work unpaid overtime. The latter is illegal, and one does not need to be a lawyer to take protective measures.
    – Michael J.
    May 23, 2016 at 20:25
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    @MichaelJ. Exempt employees have no federal protections when it comes to overtime pay, period. That's what exempt means. An employer may require that an exempt employee work 60 hour work weeks while officially listing 40 as the standard and not pay him a dime extra for those 20 hours. As long as the employee is correctly classified as exempt this is perfectly legal. The FLSA confirms this and if you have some legislation or precedent that proves this is illegal you should provide it. Just because it's stupid and immoral that doesn't make it illegal.
    – Lilienthal
    May 24, 2016 at 9:15

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