Work-mandatory dinner, is it overtime or Free Time?
July 11, 2007 10:45 AM   Subscribe

SlaveryFilter: My girlfriend is attending "mandatory" dinners with co-workers every week, which eats up her entire evening! She isn't being paid for her time, how is this legal?

Shouldn't it be considered overtime or something? If you HAVE to go to something for WORK, shouldn't they PAY you?
For all the bull she gets about life-work balance, they sure tip the scales in favor of the latter.

posted by emptyinside to Work & Money (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is she salaried or paid hourly? If she's salaried, there's not really any concept of "overtime" at all.
posted by occhiblu at 10:50 AM on July 11, 2007

It doesn't sound legal? What happens if she just says she can't go? Has she tried doing this?
posted by chunking express at 10:50 AM on July 11, 2007

What occhiblu said. Although I was once lucky enough to have a salaried job where I also got overtime pay, that's not the norm.
posted by amro at 10:54 AM on July 11, 2007

I don't want to speculate on the legality of the situation because I have no credentials to do so, but I would advise her to consider looking for somewhere else to work.

Even if she was getting paid, the idea that the company she works for has no problem trying to dictate her life outside of work hours seems rather insidious to me, and I'm assuming she is childless; I can't imagine what her coworkers who are parents would do, especially if they commute. I also can't believe that eating out that frequently - and perhaps having your meal choices scrutinized by an accountant! - is very healthy.

Where are you? Perhaps someone will have a more specific legal answer for you.
posted by mdonley at 11:04 AM on July 11, 2007

Well, I'll just point to my comment earlier today.

She's free not to attend. They're free to fire her. She's free to look for another job which doesn't require mandatory dinners. Tolerate it or don't; those are the choices.

(There is a non-zero chance she's dating someone from work. Not to make you nervous, but "work is making me stay late and do stuff" is the number one excuse of cheaters.)
posted by jellicle at 11:04 AM on July 11, 2007

Ask her where they went for dinner. If she dodges, or says "oh, just this place we always go to around the corner", the odds that she's cheating on you increase manyfold.

If she isn't cheating on you, then, yes. She might well have mandatory off-hours dinner meetings, whether she's paid for them or not. I think there's one US state that isn't an "at-will" employment state, and of the Canadian provinces, only Quebec isn't at-will.

Yes, they should be paying her if she isn't a management/salaried employee. But, y'know, good luck on getting that enforced while keeping the job.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:13 AM on July 11, 2007

Best answer: The Fair Labor Standards Act says this:
Lectures, Meetings and Training Programs: Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time only if four criteria are met, namely: it is outside normal hours, it is voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed.
Do all employees attend? Can your girlfriend decline this standing dinner "invitation" simply by stating that she's unable to participate?

In the event that any action is taken against the requirement of these dinners, you might suggest that your girlfriend document her time and any personal expenses associated with her attendance at them.
posted by mezzanayne at 11:13 AM on July 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

What field is she in? In some fields, this is normal. Fundraising/development and magazine writers/editors immediately come to mind.

It's even considered somewhat of a perk by some. (People without social lives of their own, presumably, but hey, try bitching about being forced to eat at a nice restaurant on the company's dime and see how far you get.)
posted by desuetude at 11:27 AM on July 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine a BOSS wanting to have dinner with his or her employees every week, which makes me doubt the mandatory aspect of these dinners.
posted by jayder at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2007

Wisecracks about cheating aside (not that it's not possible), it depends on the field... in my jurisdiction, some occupations (generally salaried professionals) are ineligible for overtime pay, and generally labour standards (max hours a day, breaks, etc) do not apply to them.

It's very hard to answer your question unless we know what your gf does and where she does it.
posted by modernnomad at 11:42 AM on July 11, 2007

I've gotten complaints from folks in sales and/or consulting where this happened. So it isn't entirely unheard of.
posted by jeanmari at 11:44 AM on July 11, 2007

Whats typical for salaried jobs is soem kind of time reimburs for this. If she spends 12 hours a month at these meetings then she should get about 12 hours or vacation/PTO/whatever time. Maybe shes accruing all this time and doesnt know?
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:44 AM on July 11, 2007

You don't give much information so it is hard to tell if "mandatory" is mandatory or if it just in her head or maybe it is as greta simone says. Maybe she has difficulty just saying NO.
posted by JJ86 at 11:46 AM on July 11, 2007

Mod note: Some of the "she's cheating!" cascade removed; let's stick to the question and take that discussion to metatalk.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:47 AM on July 11, 2007

According to this previous question by the OP, she is in marketing/print.
posted by spec80 at 11:49 AM on July 11, 2007

Is she meeting with the same co-workers every week or are these business dinners with various clients, etc. If it's the same people every week, I think she has a leg to stand on in complaining. There is just no need to have dinner with your co-workers every week. However, if she's meeting with various clients for specific purposes, then that's her job.
posted by gfrobe at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2007

DOL guidelines. Jellicle's previous answer was also wrong in law, though often right in practice.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on July 11, 2007

Marketing people sometimes do have to do some after-work socializing, but not as much as someone in sales or client relations. When salespeople take clients / potential clients out, they are usually paid a combination of salary & commission, and reimbursed for these entertainment expenses. They would not be paid hourly or overtime for this sort of thing.

However, it doesn't sound like she's a salesperson or that she is meeting with clients.

If her mandatory after-work dinners are with fellow coworkers, I do think that is really strange. What can they do over dinner that they can't do in a regular work-hours meeting?
posted by tastybrains at 12:16 PM on July 11, 2007

When I worked at a consulting firm, the enormously unsatisfying legal theory that they offered for this type of thing was they were "paying" us for our internal meetings in food, so we weren't allowed to bill the time to overhead.

It is worth noting that none of the partners were willing to help me move for $1.50 in bagels and some warm orange juice
posted by milkrate at 12:20 PM on July 11, 2007

Klangklangson and mezzanayne's links have what you want.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 1:20 PM on July 11, 2007

Where does your girlfriend work? In what country, state/province, industry and position? That will affect the legality.

(BTW, Solid-One-Love, Canada does not have "at will" employment. See here, here (PDF), here, here, etc.)
posted by acoutu at 2:21 PM on July 11, 2007

BTW, Solid-One-Love, Canada does not have "at will" employment.

I know. I used a shortcut and got caught. We're not at-will up here, but you can still be terminated without cause as long as you get notice or severance, which amounts to the same thing in the end -- she still risks getting the axe. Except in Quebec, where things work a little differently and I don't begin to understand it.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:32 PM on July 11, 2007

Welcome to the working world in 2007.
posted by cmicali at 2:35 PM on July 11, 2007

When I worked at a consulting firm, the enormously unsatisfying legal theory that they offered for this type of thing was they were "paying" us for our internal meetings in food, so we weren't allowed to bill the time to overhead.

You aren't alone. There are a lot of people around here like that. Usually they are on on freeway exits and have a cardboard sign that says "Will work for food."
posted by JackFlash at 2:41 PM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Evening meetings have been part of several jobs I've had. On those days, we could start later or occasionally take off a day. There was really no option in that job.

Then, there was another job where I didn't have to stay late, but most people would. When I had that job, I was dating the one angry, controlling boyfriend I've ever had. (I'm not saying you are controlling, I'm just giving you the full context.) I didn't mind going. But he wanted me home more. So, he asked questions like yours. I was too timid to stand up to him and say "look, I don't mind spending the time, and this is what most staff does. So I want to be there." Instead, I said it was required. The truth was that I could've fought it and tried to find a way around it, and it would've hurt my career, and it just wasn't worth it, especially not just for the sake of meeting his high expectations of how much time I should be at home. This is probably extreme compared to your situation, if it relates at all.

But that experience makes me want to ask you: does she really not want to go? Or is it just that you want her home? Is it possible that she doesn't mind the job requirement and is just saying she "has to go" as a way to get you off her back (if you're on it)? Does she really have the same expectations about how much evening time you'll spend together? Is it possible that your real problem is not her employer, but the work-life balance she wants?
posted by salvia at 2:57 PM on July 11, 2007

Salvia makes a good point. How bothered is she by this aspect of her job?

I was just making a somewhat related point in the MeTa callout. Dinner may not be literally mandatory, but may be effectively mandatory if she wants to ever get ahead at this job, seem like a "team player." demonstrate her commitment to the work, blah blah blah.
posted by desuetude at 3:31 PM on July 11, 2007

Response by poster: wow guys, what a response...

she's being paid hourly, she really doesn't want to go, it's been made very clear that she has to go, and they've used the word 'mandatory'.

i'll forward her the link on the fair labor standards act.

posted by emptyinside at 3:49 PM on July 11, 2007

Oh, if she gets paid hourly, and it's mandatory, then she gets paid for going.
posted by oaf at 4:26 PM on July 11, 2007

If it's mandatory, and she's not getting paid, then it's illegal.

p.s. As soon as she starts fighting this, she will get fired. She should first get evidence of what's going on in writing.
posted by bingo at 4:49 PM on July 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

I guess I am still a little confused about the nature of these dinners. Is it social, is there anything work related, are family/friends invited, why does it eat up the entire evening, etc. If it isn't work related other than the fact that everyone is there, why would that fall into unfair labor?

I regularly go to lunch every Friday with our design group and it sounds similar to her arrangement. Lunch is not free but it hasn't been claimed as "mandatory" either. BTW, if someone said it is mandatory then it isn't "mandatory". The quotes designate an implied condition, not an actual stated condition. So your use of the quotes is confusing.

The final answer for her is what she wants out of her job. If she wants to advance then extracurricular activities with the office are "mandatory". If her position requires her to be on management-track then even if she is hourly now, she is going to have to put that extra effort in. If she doesn't care for her job or just wants the 9 to 5 then she should simply quit going to the dinners.

I have had jobs for companies that want everyone to be a go-getter. I no longer work at those companies. If they attempt to fire her for that fact then she has a case but based solely on your meager descriptions it sounds like a flimsy case of unfair labor practices that would make her the butt of jokes.
posted by JJ86 at 4:57 PM on July 11, 2007

You know, I had a part-time job and sometimes they made me do these things. While I appreciated the free, expensive dinners ... they did cut into my personal time. I went to my boss and explained that if they wanted me to do such things, they obviously valued my input which translates into me having more responsibility and worth more of a value to the company. I got the raise, if they're making you go to dinner that usually means they value you and want to be around you. Usually a lot of strategy bull sessions take place in environments like this.

However, if you're not hourly and salaried ... this is part of your job. I know plenty of people at firms where they are expected to socialize and maintain a group (err ... snobby) status. This is expected and I have never heard complaints about going to expensive bars and clubs and having someone above you pick up big bar tabs. The fact is most people in such a situation like what they're doing and don't see the work/life distinction some people do.

In short: If she's doing this for some money on the side, she should approach the boss about compensation, even if it is not standard overtime compensation. If this is a career and everyone is enjoying it, she should think about a different company or career. On a scale of "big bad employer things", eating out every night rates around a 2. Locking women in a building full of flammable materials and locking it from the outside, that's about a 10. If you don't like the firm's culture change the firm.
posted by geoff. at 5:06 PM on July 11, 2007

It may be exploitive and illegal but it isn't slavery. She's free to leave the job. Sorry for my lack of sense of humor, but there is a difference.

She can't be required to do this, so it should not be called 'mandatory.' But sometimes and in some fields, if you want to advance, it's expedient to do the schmoozing. A lot happens off the clock, and if promotions or reputations are at stake, sometimes it's worth taking the hit on your time, if you're ambitious and if you need the support of the people asking for your presence. But that's an entirely personal decision, and can't be demanded by the employer.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on July 11, 2007

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