The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

December 23, 2013

Work Advice: A Dickens of a work schedule

By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post

— Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

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Q: I started working for an online luxury retailer this year in a salaried office position. There wasn't much talk about working hours when I started, but I've had a fairly typical commuter schedule. For the holiday season, however, we were told we're to take no vacation time through early January and will have to work some Saturdays. So in addition to working 60 hours some weeks and getting paid for 40, I have to work throughout Christmas. We can request one weekday off, so I might get Christmas Day or New Year's Day off, but not both. What's more, my extra hours will be devoted to packing and shipping inventory, which I didn't sign up for.

We're not being offered comp time or bonuses. We're given vague promises that "it's a young company" and that there's room for growth. Last year, everyone's "bonus" was a donation made in their name to a charity run by the company owner.

I don't feel right about not even being able to attend Christmas Eve Mass. I can't afford to quit; I'm sending out resumes like crazy. Is there some way out of this so I can see my family for Christmas?

A: I wish I had tidings of comfort and joy. But I don't see an out unless your boss has a life-changing encounter with some Christmas spirits (ghosts, liquor, whatever works).

Believe it or not, private employers are not legally required to grant paid holidays. That's why it's a good idea to get holidays, along with hours, pay and other benefits, nailed down before you accept a job. As discussed in an earlier column, salaried workers have to get the job done, however long it takes. And although you might take for granted that your desk duties will stay the same year-round, some companies have an "and other tasks as needed" expectation — especially young retailers trying to make enough holiday green to stay out of the red.

Now, this doesn't mean employers have carte blanche to exploit salaried workers to avoid paying overtime or hiring seasonal help. Salaried employees doing hourly wage work over an extended period might qualify for overtime pay for that period, according to employment lawyer Sharon Snyder, of the Ober Kaler national law firm. But they likely would have to be willing and able to fight for it.

For now, follow the lead of the many public safety, military and service industry professionals who give up holidays with their loved ones so we can enjoy ours: Celebrate when and wherever the fates allow. Then, focus on ensuring that next year, these troubles — and this job — will be out of sight.

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Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.