Rodney M Bliss

Comp Time Or “5-Minute” Rule?

We don’t have a comp-time policy.

I’ve heard it often. It’s a perfectly safe corporate policy. Most importantly, it’s a legally defensible corporate policy.

WordPerfect hired a lot of call center agents. We were mostly just out of college and we were all hourly. I remember getting the insane wage of $12.50 per hour in 1988. It was great. As an hourly employee, we got paid for the hours we worked, of course. Each agent had a scheduled shift and the call center had set hours of operation. Our jobs were to be on the phones, so other than a couple breaks and a lunch, we were talking to users.

And since these were technical support calls, we occasionally got stuck on a long call. If it went past the end of our shift, we checked with our manager and just came in later the next day. If that call happened to be on a Friday? We’d just keep track for the following Sunday.

It was about as simple a comp-time policy as you could find. And apparently it was illegal.

We had two week pay periods. And if the pay period ended on a Friday, it was against the law to not pay us for that extra time, even if it was 5 minutes.

No one cared. Well, that’s not true. The people who sued WordPerfect for their missing 5 minutes cared. And they won. It’s not like WordPerfect was abusing the system. In fact, they were trying to accomodate their employees. Most comp-time policies do. But, after a lawsuit, there was a new corporate policy. Comp-time within the same time period was still okay, but any time over 40 hours in the last week of the pay period had to be paid at time and a half.

This new policy was legal, but it really stunk for everyone involved. If you were on a call and went 5 minutes over, you had to get your supervisor involved. There was paperwork to fill out. You got a tiny amount more in your check. The supervisors also started pushing agents to cut that last call of the day short. It was a worse experience for people calling us.

But, it was legal.

I work a lot. Last week, I put in about 65 hours. This week with travel is on the same pace. I’ve long since moved to a salaried role. I get paid the same whether I work 40 hours per week or 65 hours. (I rarely work just 40.) I have some vacation coming up. This weekend I’ll be in Southern Utah in the beautiful Zions National Park. We will hike what’s called the Narrows. It’s a slot canyon with a river running down the middle. Unlike most of our monthly outings, this one is three days. It will start Thursday afternoon and end Saturday evening.

I’ll work on Thursday, but what about Friday? Should I put in for a personal day off? Should I be able to take comp-time since I’ve put in more than 40 hours this week?

My company, like most, doesn’t have a comp-time policy. There is literally no way for me to say, “Hey, I worked a lot over the past two weeks (actually, it’s been months.) I’ve worked weekends, nights, and worked the clock around occasionally. Can I get a little love?

Yes and no. I cannot ask for comp-time and my boss cannot offer it. But, as a salaried employee, I fall under the 5 minute rule. If a salaried employee works for more than 5 minutes, he or she gets paid for that day. Eat some bad sushi at lunch? Take the afternoon off. Kid fell off the swing at school during first recess? Get paid for the rest of the day. Of course, you need to coordinate with your manager, but legally, your company has to pay you. It’s not really a limit of 5 minutes. It’s the other side of the “no comp-time” policy.

Most of my work is done over the phone. I do a fair amount via email and instant messaging, of course, but I live and breath my phone. The benefit of a phone is that I can take calls anywhere I can get coverage. Last month I went to visit our client in person. I met the people that up until that point I’d only talked to over the phone.

I typically work from home one day per week. Can any of y’all tell me what day that is?

Ah. . .Wednesday?

No, and I’m glad you don’t know.

Apparently, I was able to interact with them seamlessly whether I was in the office or not.
I just spent three days with my boss at our new site. During that time I was on phone calls for about 15 hours. I was often on two calls at once. I wasn’t on three calls at once because my phone will only allow two at a time. He gives me great latitude to run my postion the way I need to. But, I think he was surprised at just how much time I spend on the phone.

As we considered this coming long weekend, he reminded me of the 5 minute rule. I’ll take a personal day, but if I have to take a phone call, then it’s a work day and we have to go back and adjust the records. He’s not talking about a five minute phone call, of course. I took a 6 hour call from when we arrived at the airport in Florida well into the evening.

I’ll have a backup designated for this weekend, but everyone calls me first. That’s our protocol. If I don’t answer it’s because I can’t. At that point they move on to my backup. So, there is a possibility that I’ll be working on my vacation day again.

As much as I appreciate it, I really wish the lawyers would have never killed corporations’ comp-time policy. I don’t get to choose, but when I did, as a small business owner, I opted for more legal risk, but a policy that allowed people to balance work and life more.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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