A reader writes
My company has a ridiculous late fine policy: you will be fined $2 for every minute, starting from 9:01 a.m. So if you come in at 9:05 a.m., that’s $10 you gotta pay up in cash. (This is not somewhere where down-to-the-minute coverage would be essential. It’s just typical deskbound, back-end work. I can see why the receptionist who gets the calls will need to be there smack on the dot, but the rest of us — not really.)
I’ve been here for over a year, and have been fined maybe three times. They were for 9:01 a.m., 9:02 a.m. and 9:08 a.m. I was intensely annoyed and embarrassed, but okay, I can still absorb the $2-$16 financial pinch.
I hate this policy because it nickel and dimes employees down to the first minute, and at a very high rate. I hate this policy because coming in at 9:01 a.m. does not makes you any less productive than the dude who came in at 9:00 a.m., whose bloody computer is still starting up.
A few days ago, I overslept for the first time. I somehow slept through my usual TWO alarms and woke up with a start at 8:30 a.m. — an hour late. I immediately texted my manager that I had overslept and asked if it was possible to get an emergency, UNPAID, half-day leave. I had calculated that coming in an hour late would result in a $120 fine, which is painfully difficult for me to absorb. I’m a junior employee.
My manager said no. She wanted me to come in anyway because “it’s the right thing to do.” I cried some tears of frustration, but told her okay and rushed like hell down, but not before racking up 45 minutes worth of late fine — $90.
Alison, I understand that she wants me to be punished accordingly. I accept that sleeping through two alarms was all on me.
At the same time — and I don’t know if this matters — I’m a relatively high performer at work. I truly enjoy what I do and do a decent job at it. I just received a glowing annual appraisal and got publicly commended by the director, in spite of my young age (this is my first job out of college) and junior position. Furthermore, I work overtime every day because my workload is high, even though we don’t get any overtime pay. And I’m not chronically late — this was my first time oversleeping.
And yet, my manager rejected my request for an UNPAID, half-day leave. Technically, she is right and I deserved it. But I don’t think being rigidly strict here was warranted. Am I just entitled for feeling this way? If you divide my monthly salary by 30 days, $90 is what I earn in one day. I will have to cough up an entire day’s salary (worth three weeks of lunch expenses!) for this, and my manager was cool with that? I’m fuming, yet I don’t know if I have the right to be.
Part of me wants to talk about this with my manager to see if it could’ve been handled differently — if I could’ve been given the unpaid, half-day leave. Is this worth revisiting with her about, and if so, how should I approach it?
This is utter bullshit.
I am IRATE over this.
If you’re not in a job where coverage matters (like one where you need to answer phones or meet with clients starting at a precise time), then it really, really doesn’t matter if you’re two minutes late. I would think it was ridiculous for a manager even just to have a stern talk with someone for being two minutes late in a job where it doesn’t have any practical impact — but fining you?
You are a professional adult holding down a professional job. The entire concept of fining you is offensive and ridiculous.
If your manager has a problem with your time of arrival, she can do what a decent manager would do and talk to you about it. If it continues after that, she can decide what the consequences are. But they need to be normal work consequences (up to and including firing you if it’s that big of a deal, although I’m skeptical that it should be) — it can’t be digging through your wallet and taking whatever cash she finds there, or insisting you cut off two inches of your hair, or that you change your name to Xavier Sebastian Pumpernickel. And it can’t be making you turn over your own money for the privilege of working there.
Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Legally, though, in a lot of cases it would be allowed. I talked with employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, who agreed that federal law does allow this, as long the fine doesn’t take your pay for that period below minimum wage. But she noted that you might live in a state that prohibits it, and it’s worth checking into that. Also, if you’re non-exempt, they can dock your pay for the actual time you were late … although if you’re exempt, that docking could negate your exempt status, make you effectively non-exempt, and mean that you’d be entitled to overtime pay when you work over 40 hours in a week. (There’s an explanation about exempt and non-exempt here, but the gist is that “exempt” is a government classification meaning that the nature of the work you do makes you exempt from receiving overtime pay. If you’re exempt, they can’t dock your pay when you work fewer hours. If they do that anyway, they can end up owing you overtime pay, including retroactively.)
Donna also pointed out: “The other thing I’d say you’d have to look at is the reason the employee was late. If it was to care for a sick child, spouse or parent, then punishing them might violate FMLA. If it related to a disability, then they might be violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. If it’s applied unevenly, then other discrimination laws could kick in. I’d say an employer doing this is, number one, a terrible employer, and, number two, taking a huge risk that they are violating some law.”
As for what you can do here …
First, it’s worth looking into the potential legal issues Donna raises. If there’s a legal violation here, your employers deserves to have someone pursue it.
Second, look into whether you’re correctly classified as exempt. You said you don’t get overtime pay even when you work overtime, which means they’re treating you as exempt. I would bet good money that they’ve misclassified you (which many employers do), especially considering that this is your first job out of school and first jobs often don’t meet the bar to be exempt. And if that’s the case, they owe you a ton of overtime back pay. Even if you ultimately choose not to pursue that, it would be really handy leverage to have in any discussions about the fining.
Third, recalibrate your expectations. Because this is your first job after college, you might be thinking this is more acceptable than it actually is. But it’s not normal to treated salaried professionals this way. It’s not something you should expect to find at future jobs. It’s not something you should be okay with now.
And you have every right to be fuming about that $90 fine. You are not being entitled. You are being absolutely, entirely reasonable.
So fourth, go back and talk to your manager. Say something like this: “I’m asking you to waive this $90 fine. $90 is what I earn in a day. I can’t afford to pay back an entire day’s salary. I work overtime every day, and it makes no sense for me to work long hours when I’m not given even a minute of leeway on the other end. I’m not chronically late, and I do excellent work. I don’t think I should be subject to a financial hardship for a one-time occurrence.”
Fifth, consider pushing back on this entire abhorrent policy with a group of your coworkers. People have unionized over less.