According to the California labor code, Steve (not his real name) was entitled to overtime during the entire time he was paid a salary and classified as exempt. "Being put back on an hourly rate made it easier for me to win an overtime lawsuit," explains Steve, who was hired as a purchasing agent. "It wasn't an exempt position: I wasn't supervising anyone and I did everything that my boss directed. If he was able to switch me from salary to hourly, where was the justification in not paying overtime?
"One month after the 'training period,' which was a joke because I was working and didn't get any training, I was put on salary," says Steve. "My boss said a salary was to my benefit, because I worked seven hours a day but would get paid for eight hours. Little did I know there was more in store.
"I didn't mind at first, working five or 10 hours per week overtime, but it got to the point where I was working more than 12 hours every day. We had a meeting every day at 8 pm (a wholesaler got around to seeing me at 8.30 pm) and of course the boss kept me busy until that time—I started work at 8:30 am.
"Sometimes I would take a 20-minute lunch and a break every now and then. It was hard to get away because phones were ringing off the hook. On top of that the boss fired some warehouse stock people and others would last about a month, so I had to pick up the slack. Trucks came in and I would have to help with receiving and shipping. No one else was capable of handling a forklift and properly taking care of the paperwork.
"I worked about 60 hours per week consistently for the next 18 months. Then I had had enough. I had only taken sick days during that entire time; it was my parents' anniversary, and I asked one week in advance for a day off. Next thing I know, he fired me for not phoning in! Apparently he didn't remember me asking. This guy was Mr. Mismanagement.
"I tried to file for unemployment and he fought it every step of the way, saying I walked off the job. I didn't get unemployment—the sate of California took his word over mine. I was SOL but fortunate enough to get work with my friend, a contractor, and I got a full-time job a few months later. I probably wouldn't have filed a lawsuit if he had the decency to grant me unemployment benefits, and I found out that people in my position before me were paid hourly and received overtime.
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"So I found an attorney who helped me on a pro bono basis. I kept track of everything, including every hour I worked, even though I didn't punch a time clock.
"We settled out of court. I wound up with a percentage of what was owed me, but in the end I am satisfied because he didn't get away with it. Some of my co-workers left right after me—I am hopeful they too will file lawsuits for overtime, harassment and hostile work environment violations."