John Winter (not his real name) from Oceanside, California, used to work for a privately owned electronics company head quartered in Mira Mesa, San Diego. The company contracts from government agencies in the US and other countries and generates about 50 million dollars. It has about 300 employees.
Winter accepted a position based on a fixed salary of 40 hours per week. Had he known that soon he would have to work 55-60 hours per week, he wouldn't have accepted the job. Winter, along with many of his colleagues, thought this was OK at the time because performance reviews were coming up soon and management told the engineers they were all going to be compensated for the extra work.
"Management had an appreciation meeting and invited all of us engineers, promising us that our hard work would be rewarded, promising all of us that we would not be forgotten," says Winter. So they kept working.
Winter's base salary was about $50 per hour based on a 40 hour week. But if you go over 60 hours, it becomes $33 an hour. "This isn't the wage I agreed upon and way low for industry standard based on my experience. This would be a salary for entry level and I have 15 years experience," he says.
When Winter complained, his manager just said 'Sorry, this is the way it is.' Winter wanted to quit but didn't think it was ethical to leave the project, and his manager appreciated him staying on. "All the engineers [all of whom were working seven days a week] finished developing the products and we started shipping them out the door," says Winter.
"Then it got to a point where it wasn't so busy and we went down to working 40 hours a week at the beginning of February, 2006. But they still called Saturdays mandatory work days! Even though there was nothing to do, we still had to come in," Winter says.
Why were they still having to work weekends, even when there wasn't enough work?
"There are lots of low profile companies out there," Winter explains, "And they are still limping. Out of 300 employees, about 200 are working at minimum wage. There is no company quality or a disciplinary bible; someone makes a decision and nobody questions it - a waste of engineering talent."
"A week after I was hired, I was told that Saturdays were mandatory work days, on top of that, I had to work a few Sundays. I was working an average of 50 hours a week for 4.5 months in which I never got compensated for any of those extra hours. I had to cancel a weekend vacation with my family, even though I had notified my manager in advance. He came to me last minute on a Friday and told me that I had to come to work; he said that 'Saturday is a working day.'
"I confronted with him the fact that this was not disclosed to me on our employment agreement and that the company is in violation of labor law.
My manager took me to one of the meeting rooms and told me that he was laying me off effective immediately.
"The reason he gave me was 'reduction in force.' However, on the same day, The Company had posted an ad on Hotjobs.com for a senior hardware engineer. At HR office, I confronted the Hotjobs ad with the VP of HR. He immediately removed the 'reduction in force' termination letter from my personnel files, and with a nervous tone said that they made a mistake and the reason was not a reduction in force."
So this company brings in the talent, takes advantage and once done with their needs, lets them go. Winter offered that the company hire him as a consultant, "and see how it goes," but they were desperate.
Winter signed a contract as a permanent full-time employee - a full time exempt employee. But what is considered exempt? Exempt is how companies get around not paying overtime. As for the company's ethics, why couldn't they hire Winter as a consultant? "I could have been looking for a permanent job all that time, a secure position. Now I feel like I am back to square one - I got back-stabbed working here.
"I think another reason [I was dismissed] was my "whistle blow", when I complained to my manager that the company was violating labor law, forcing all employees to work over 10 hours a week unpaid overtime.
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"Although I asked to work as a contractor, they hired me as a permanent employee, at a time when they desperately needed my skills. They took advantage of me by forcing me to work overtime without compensation.
I did not sign any exit papers, and was not given my last pay check either.
"The company has been in violation of labor law for several years; it has been a trend inside the company to hire the expert as an exempt employee to resolve product issues, force him/her to work overtime (even Sundays), get the products out the door as fast as possible, and then get rid of the employee. I am sure the labor commissioner of County of San Diego would not appreciate this," says Winter.
Neither do 300 employees at The Company.