I know I'm bad at math, but does this add up?
November 16, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Why does being salaried mean that I lose out on 5 hours of pay every week?

I recently started my first salaried job--yay! I am having trouble understanding how exactly it works, though, based on some things in the employee manual, and the info on my paycheck stubs.

The manual says that salaried employees get a paid one-hour lunch break during the work day, and work from 8 am to 5 pm. My paycheck shows I'm paid for 80 hours every two weeks. I get that 40 hours is the standard work week. But if my weeks are actually 45 hours (9 hours a day, one of which is a paid lunch break--5 days a week), aren't my lunch breaks unpaid?

I asked the controller about this and she told me it was just semantics, and if I left at 7 instead of 5 every day, I'd make the same amount of money. So...if I left at 4 every day wouldn't I make the same amount of money too?! Or couldn't my paychecks just SAY 45 hours but be for the same amount?

I am grateful to have a job, I don't mind being there 8-5, whatever, but I don't understand why all the "paid lunch break!" propaganda, when to me it's pretty clear lunch is not actually paid. Help me understand, MeFi!
posted by masquesoporfavor to Work & Money (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Paid lunch applies to hourly workers, as do hourly totals. Being salaried means that you are paid the same whether you work 35, 45, or 55 hours.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:29 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This is something you'll have to resolve with your HR people, but it sounds like you have it correct -- you have an hour unpaid lunch built into your schedule.

It's also worth your time to figure out how they really feel about you leaving at 7, 5, or 4 if you skip lunch. It behooves a capitalist to try to exploit as much as possible out of you while taking into account any morale (and thus productivity) loss by making you work unpaid time.
posted by garlic at 3:30 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, "hourly rate" when you're salaried is purely a fiction. I get paid twice a month, and my "hourly rate" actually varies depending on how many weekdays end up in each pay period - but the total amount I'm paid is consistent, because that's my salary.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:36 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

So it sounds like you are Salaried/Exempt which means that not matter how much you work, you are paid the same amount of money. Usually you have to be absent for at least 1/2 day (or 1 full day at some places) before they can dock your pay or make you use PTO/Vacation/Sick Time.

So yes, you could leave an hour early every day, or you can stay an hour late every day. Your paycheck will always be the same.

Don't think of it as being paid per hour any more. You aren't.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:38 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also important to remember, being salaried means you don't get paid overtime.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:46 PM on November 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! And sorry to threadsit--it's my first one, I'm so excited!

I guess my REAL question is, then, what's in it for me, as far as being salaried? If I could leave at 4 and get paid the same, what's supposed to motivate me to stay later? Sense of obligation? Do you just stop caring eventually?! (I can and will save those questions for next week if this is rule-breakage. Sorry!)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2011

I find my employer doesn't nickel-and-dime me about where and when I do my work. So, if I need to leave at 4 because I ride a bike and it's getting dark, no problem.

However I have to fulfill other performance metrics, so watch out. You are responsible for getting work done now, not working for a particular amount of time. Enjoy!
posted by zomg at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

what's supposed to motivate me to stay later?

Your supervisor will presumably have expectations for when you should be working. In some jobs they won't care if you leave early if you're getting your work done. In others they'll fire you if you keep taking parts of the day off.
posted by auto-correct at 3:54 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I could leave at 4 and get paid the same, what's supposed to motivate me to stay later? Sense of obligation?

You are a professional and expected to act like it. This means that you are trusted to get your work done, and get it done to a high standard. If you can do that by 4, good for you. If it takes you until 7, then you're there until 7.

In reality, there are also social dynamics. If you're leaving at 4 each day and everyone else is having to work until 7, the office is going to be stressed and grumpy and likely have a negative outlook, and when they see you going home at 4 all the time, likely get the impression not that you're awesome at your job, but that you're not being given enough work, or that you're not pulling your weight somehow.

Ie appearances also matter, (usually).
posted by -harlequin- at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

What's in it for you is that you have this job that pays X dollars. You're thinking about it wrong by thinking about it in terms of losing money (unless you find a job that will pay more).

As zomg points out, an ancillary benefits is more flexibility on taking off early on a certain day (depending on your employer). What you're evaluated on is what you get done, not the hours that you are there.

FWIW, my understanding is that most salaried employees work more than 40 hours. You stay later than 4:00 because you have stuff you need to get done and/or you want to keep your job.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:56 PM on November 16, 2011

What is supposed to motivate you to stay later is whether you actually get whatever work is assigned to you done, but many places (like my employer) break it down that you must work a certain number of hours per day and that you are allowed a certain number of hours of absence before your pay is used as time off/docked. There's a flexibility built in (depending on how your job functions and your superior's expectations, etc.) but the "paid lunch" is probably a typo. Salaried employees rarely get paid lunch or overtime.

What's in it for you is that you are guaranteed, pending your work performance, a certain amount of money per paycheck that you are not guaranteed if you are a wage employee. Your hours, presumably, are also set. (This is accompanied by a good faith effort on your part to do the work in the hours allocated.)

No one in my office works 40 hours a week, btw.
posted by sm1tten at 3:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hourly employees often have to worry about being scheduled for sufficient hours from week to week. Many factors, from legitimate economic concerns to workplace politics, can influence (1) how many hours an employee is given in a particular week, and (2) whether those hours are assigned in a "good" or convenient schedule for that employee. As a salaried employee, you do not need to worry about these things. You will be able to pay your bills regularly and (mostly) predict your schedule.
posted by red clover at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2011

Best answer: My understanding of salary is that you get a set amount of money a year for agreeing to the contract of work you signed. If you get paid every week, they divide that amount by 52 and that is your gross pay (26 weeks if you get paid biweekly).

You need to see your contract to see what you signed up for - hours of work and other benefits you have. For example, you now have sick days or vacation days you can use. Since you're salary, when you use them you still get the same amount in your paycheck every week - that is a big plus with being paid salary - if you are hourly, you lose money because you didn't work because you were sick.

For example, I am a teacher. My contract says I get paid X amount for a year. I get 10 sick days, 3 personal days, 2 bereavement days, (no vacation days, we're supposed to take them in the summer) heath insurance, and tuition reimbursement. I have to work 190 days, attend 3 evening events and our graduation. I'm in the school building approximately 40 hours a week.

One benefit that really worked for me was that I took advantage of the tuition reimbursement and didn't pay a single penny for all my graduate work and my school paid for my Master's degree - which they are now paying me a larger salary for getting. Crazy huh?

And no, I don't like that I have to take my vacation in the summer or take time off without pay, but I like pretty much everything else, so there are tradeoffs that you make.

You have to see what benefits you are getting, whether it's some of the ones above or free gym memberships or a discounts at local merchants, and get them to work for you.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:14 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

what's supposed to motivate me to stay later?

Your colleagues will hate you if they are all working past 5pm and you're leaving at 4 every day, even if all your work is done. Your boss will probably notice this pattern as well. Don't be the last one in or the first one out until you've been there a while.
posted by jabes at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Your colleagues will hate you if they are all working past 5pm and you're leaving at 4 every day, even if all your work is done.

It important to know this, but at the same time, don't do it yourself. After a few years of salary, if you're overworked and frustrated yet someone bounces out the door to enjoy the afternoon sunshine that will be gone by the time you're done, you'll be tempted to think badly of them, but instead, think "good for you!". Because our turns all come, and everyone gets to enjoy their time in the sun if the office attitude is "good for you!"

It beats the hell out of having done your work, and secretly just killing time at your desk, bored, but you know it would look bad to leave. It's human nature to become a hater when someone has a better deal than you (possibly at your expense!) but go the other way instead, and everyone benefits.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:48 PM on November 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Basically, it doesn't add up. It's not supposed to, because not mathematically adding up your pay is pretty much the point of being on salary. Your pay stubs will show some kind of hourly rate, because that's kind of the only way to compute exactly how much you're owed for any given period within the confines of payroll software, but the real number to keep in mind is that you're being paid $X/day/week/month/year of work, wherein "work" encompasses the entirety of your duties whenever you do them. 40 hours/week is just a convenient way to break down the math, but your actual employment contract is the instrument that probably defines your salary as a monthly (or semimonthly) amount.

How exactly this works is more of a cultural issue, and it will depend greatly on your job and your employer. My job at a startup is quite casual: we don't track vacation days, we pretty much come and go as we please, and we all trust each other to be working hard. We can do this because there's only seven of us, we all work very closely together, and we're frequently engaged in late-night pizza runs together around crunch times. No one particularly cares what time you come in (minus the occasional scheduled event) or whether you're writing an AskMe comment during the workday because we know that everyone is working hard and pulling their weight. If there's a problem, we'll discuss it like adults and try to resolve it.

On the other hand, I realize the vast majority of salaried jobs aren't this loosey-goosey. The situation may vary from hyper-controlled (perhaps a control-freak boss and/or a contracting situation where your client time is tracked and managed precisely) to a dysfunctional one in which nobody has any idea what you do all day or if you do it. Figuring out these expectations and culture at your employer is the hard part, because the rules aren't usually as clear as they are for hourly workers.

In short, being on salary is an agreement to receive $X pay in exchange for whatever your employer decides is a part of your job. That definition is going to be the combination of your written job description, other written HR policies, and the culture/normal practices at your employer. If you decide that your employer is asking too much of you, then you sit down with your boss and figure out a plan by which they rebalance your assignments, give you a raise or bonus in exchange for the extra work/time, or you decide whether you're prefer to work elsewhere or continue on. If they ask you for 18-hour days for a month straight, it's up to you as a professional to decide whether to agree and whether you want to ask them for anything additional in return.

Because being a professional is ultimately what it comes down to. Labor law is essentially saying that you're a skilled enough worker to negotiate your own agreement with your employer, within reason, and so it gives both parties the flexibility to set the terms that are appropriate for whatever your job may be.
posted by zachlipton at 5:15 PM on November 16, 2011

You need to see your contract to see what you signed up for - hours of work and other benefits you have

This is true for the person who wrote it, who is a teacher, and has a contract. Many of us are salaried and have no contract. This isn't to say there aren't formal descriptions set forth by the employer of exactly what our compensation is - there absolutely are, and HR can (or at least definitely should be able to) produce and explain them at any time. But in my own case, I have no contract signed by anyone, so in theory my employer can change my compensation at any time for any reason. My reply can be "Okay, I accept that" or "No, sorry, I'm leaving," but there's no actual contract binding anyone to anything.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:17 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The benefits of having a salary is that once in a blue moon you can leave a little earlier without getting docked for it.

I was a temp for ten years; I got paid hourly. I technically had health insurance and some vacation pay, even. But -- I almost never used any of it, because if I did take that couple hours to go to the doctor or whatever, that would be two hours I didn't get paid. And on my budget that made a huge difference.

I did also have the flexibility to take a day off when I wanted, but if I did -- that was eight hours I didn't get paid.

If you take a couple hours off every day, it adds up. I am not really the type of person to blow off at a certain time every day, but once in a blue moon it would have been great -- except for the fact that it'd be a pretty big ding in my income if I did. So I spent ten years feeling like I was being punished for simply wanting to have a little time for my own self now and then, or punished for going to the doctor. So I gradually started avoiding taking time for myself, even just once or twice a year, and avoiding doctor visits.

Having a salary means you don't have to worry about that. Which is good, because thinking that you aren't allowed to go to a freakin' doctor is messed up.

Putting in the full time on every other day is your own responsibility, but the benefit comes from being able to take some time for yourself now and then without being dinged for it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:20 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Where I work, salaried jobs have a much higher pay rate and better vacation. Staff are expected to have a sense of ownership, work more when there's a major event, etc. In return, no punching a clock, and the flexibility to take a longer lunch when there's a concert in the park. I tend to work through lunch most days, and stay late, and I also tend to hang out on ask.me when I need a break.
posted by theora55 at 6:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in an office full of salary people with different job descriptions, some work 8 hr days and some work as much as 12 hrs. The company policy is salary staff must work at least 35 hours for salary pay, if they go over 40 hours it doesn't matter, their paycheck is the same. Needless to say the ones working 12 hours a day get burnt out, but it is a job and better than not having a job.
posted by sandyp at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2011

The difference between what you make as a salaried employee and what you could in theory make as a per-hour freelancer is the fee you pay an employer to provide you with a workplace within which you can exercise your skills and to take care of all your job-related paperwork. Depending on your employer, you might or might not perceive that as value for money.

Personally, I loathe and detest paperwork and am much happier when somebody else is taking care of most of that for me so I can just get on with doing the work I do enjoy. I'm therefore generally happier to work as an employee than as a contractor.
posted by flabdablet at 7:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a newly salaried employee, try to internalize the "if you don't have anything to do, don't do it here" mentality, lest work literally become your life.
posted by squorch at 7:28 PM on November 16, 2011

In New York state, many salaried employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week--in fact, there is a presumption that salaried workers are entitled to it, and the employer has to demonstrate that their employees meet specific exceptions to the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to avoid paying overtime. It's likely that if in New York you had a paycheck that indicated you were paid for 40 hours or work when you were scheduled and worked 45 hours, your employer would be breaking the law.

I think it's likely your employer is cheating you. I would start by doing a Google search for "salary overtime you state name" and find out if you are getting the pay to which you are entitled.
posted by layceepee at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's the rub (in the US at least)... Just about every decent paying job is going to be salaried unless you run your own business, are getting equity, or make a lot in commissions.

Notice I didn't mention hourly wage workers there. See, typically those are jobs that don't frequently require above and beyond work, and thus the cost is very manageable for the company. However for most demanding work, it saves them money to have someone on salary because they expect there will be a lot more time spent than 40hrs/week. It has also become seen as a safety net by professionals who think it is a "secure" job. I personally think that is a crock of shit as you can be let go the next day and there goes your safety net. Regardless though, many industries tend to pay certain positions on salary, and if you want those roles, you either take a salary, or figure out a way to be a consultant and get paid hourly on your terms.

Many people, myself included, have realized that the secret to financial freedom does not come in the form of a salaried job. Except for the very high-end and extremely demanding ones, most salaried jobs do not pay enough to ultimately get you to financial freedom. Hence why I'm moving to get my own business ventures and cash streams in place to break out of that rat race.

You are at an important point in your career, and I think you should think long and hard about the benefits and tradeoffs of a salaried job. Think deeply on why a company would choose to pay you a salary versus an hourly wage (hint: its not because they spend more money on you).
posted by Elminster24 at 9:13 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went from hourly to salaried two years ago, while doing basically the same job at two different companies. The giant minus was: no overtime pay anymore. Boy, did I feel sad the first time I worked a 12-hour day in a salaried job. I had gotten used to seeing real dollar value for that time at the end of a pay period and the "hey, time and a half!" feeling was behind me for good. Sigh!

The plus was that it really changed how I thought about my work time. For instance, at my old job we took long team lunches occasionally. All the senior salaried people were down to sit around shooting the shit for an hour after we finished lunch. And actually, plenty of business got discussed, but we hourly folks weren't allowed to count it as time on the clock, which meant after about 30 minutes away from our desks we all started getting antsy, thinking about train schedules tonight, etc. Being salaried means that if you want, you can blend work and socializing a little more, and not feel too terrible about it. I think this is ultimately good for your career growth.
posted by troublesome at 10:16 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The basic idea of salary versus hourly is that it is a tradeoff. You are trading potential overtime against having a regular paycheck. The company is trading the same thing, but from the other perspective: they have to pay you X amount every week whether you actually work 40 hours or not, but they don't (usually) have to pay overtime. What it amounts to is changing the calculation from $ per hour to $ per year. When you are paid by the hour, you have to watch the minutes. When you are paid by the year, you have to watch the days. The 40 hours on your paycheck is just an abstraction. (On my paycheck it is ridiculously divided out such that my hourly rate is something like $xx.2543 per hour.)

Example from my life: I worked as an hourly employee for $9 an hour. I was scheduled 5 8 hour shifts a week. No work, no pay. (I did get a yearly bonus that amounted to a week or two of vacation pay.) I was promoted to salary and upgraded to $450 a week, and worked 4 days on, two days off, scheduled for 9 hours a day. It mostly worked out, because the higher pay balanced out the occasional overtime. We had an ad-hoc pool of plus and minus hours that we used to account for working significantly extra time.

However, many times, companies will use salary just to be cheap. What you need to do is make sure the salary amount accounts for your time. If you are expected to work 50 hours a week, make sure your salary is at least equal to your old ($hourly * 40) + ($hourly * 10 * 1.5). My company was always pretty loose with accounting for time, and I was equally loose with caring about extra occasional hours. If I worked 50 hours one week, I'd work 30 the next. They got cheap on us and started tracking to make sure we were putting in our full 40, and I started caring about making sure they got their 40, and then I went home.
posted by gjc at 5:36 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The manual says that salaried employees get a paid one-hour lunch break during the work day, and work from 8 am to 5 pm. My paycheck shows I'm paid for 80 hours every two weeks. But if my weeks are actually 45 hours (9 hours a day, one of which is a paid lunch break--5 days a week), aren't my lunch breaks unpaid?

Yes, your lunch breaks are unpaid, and for some reason your manual is incorrect.
posted by Rash at 9:48 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! Lots of good answers and lots of ones I didn't want to hear. I am in the work-to-live camp and while I want to be a great team member, I also don't want to be a sucker. We'll see how it all pans out after some more time at this job, but for now I'll continue my 8-5 schedule with my UNpaid lunch. Which was especially irritating today since we had a Thanksgiving meal and no one left the building. Being an adult kinda blows, eh?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:53 PM on November 17, 2011

The benefits of salary are that your health insurance is safe (not reliant on scheduling you for a certain number of shifts), you get paid vacation and sick days, and your pay isn't docked when the train makes you late or you need to scoot out early to get to a doctor's appointment.
posted by desuetude at 12:18 AM on November 18, 2011

Check the labor laws in your state. They are all different, and arbitrary. Last year, I received a class-action settlement check for several thousand dollars due to my previous employer not adhering to the letter of the law. Unbeknownst to us at the time, our salary level did not meet with the state-mandated minimum for our profession, even though it is pretty clearly spelled out in the codes. This explained why my next job paid more (even more than I had asked for) --because they wanted to comply. Boy did I feel like a dupe after I found out.

P.S. I'd be annoyed if my "salaried" job specified 8-5. Who has meetings or duties at 8:00 AM? Unless there was some sort of implicit understanding that long lunches were OK, or people could routinely take off 1/2-day Friday, or something. Note: I routinely work past 6, but on my own volition when I'm enjoying momentum on a project.

posted by markhu at 1:41 PM on February 27, 2012

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