December 13, 2000, 1:33 PM — IT'S A FAMILIAR scenario. You're sitting down to a family dinner when your pager
or cell phone interrupts. A frantic voice on the other end of the line tells you it's
an emergency: The system needs to be taken down. You leave your cozy home and head back
With many companies on alert for year-2000 computer problems, this and similar
scenes will likely be even more common than usual this holiday season.
But even in non-year-2000 times, IT professionals increasingly find themselves tied
to their jobs beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek.
For example, more than 60 percent of the 1999 InfoWorld Compensation Survey
respondents said they are on call after work -- and almost none of them reported
getting any additional compensation.
"If our network server crashed, I'd have to go in and just do it," says Robert
Martin, corporate systems coordinator at the NorthStar Print Group, in Milwaukee, Wis.,
who works an average of 45 hours per week. "That's just part of the understanding."
These long hours raise questions about just how much time and work salaried
professionals owe their employers.
As the demands of the job increase, many IT workers -- the majority of whom log
between 45 and 60 hours per week -- are starting to wonder what they are getting in
return for their extra effort.
Some companies are up front about their expectations.
Before Jason Zemba started a new job at a promising start-up company, his boss told
him that he was expected to put in more than 40 hours a week. Those who didn't put in
overtime, his boss added, didn't care about the growth of the company and were looked
upon as slackers.
"I would say the employer's perception of what an employee 'owes' to a company in
terms of hours is definitely rising," says Zemba, now vice president of technical
development at CommerceCity, in Nashville, Tenn.
Workers who feel they are being treated unfairly say they do not get much support
from the laws currently in place.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that governs a worker's
right to get paid fairly. The law defines the 40-hour workweek and federal minimum
wage, sets up standards for overtime, and places restrictions on child labor. Passed
during the difficult labor market of the post-Depression years, the FLSA was created to
protect employees from employers who demanded a grueling number of working hours in
Under the FLSA, most full-time computer professionals are considered exempt and
therefore aren't eligible for overtime pay. In theory, this means that they are paid to
get the job done rather than working a specific number of hours per week.