Q: I work for a nonprofit organization. Our board recently implemented a rule giving all hourly employees double-time pay for any holidays they work. Unfortunately, they also have elected that any employee working overtime during that same week gives up overtime pay if they receive holiday pay.
Since I routinely work overtime, this concerned me. I asked the executive director about it and he told me "the board can do anything they want to do." I then sent a letter to the Department of Labor & Industries and the written response indicated they view overtime and holiday pay as separate issues. They also said that employers must pay overtime when nonexempt employees work more than 40 hours in a work week, regardless of double time on a holiday during that week.
When I showed the executive director this letter, he wrote me up, saying I was insubordinate for going to an outside agency and if I did it again, he would fire me for violating a direct order.
This same executive director emails me at home about work issues, despite my having asked him not to contact me on my personal email. When I tried to talk with him about boundaries, he said he no longer trusted me and suggested I get a new job. He also is complaining about me to other staff. I'd quit but I really like most of my job. What can I do?
A: Boards, although powerful, can't trump state or federal laws. According to employment attorney Renea Saade, "employers can't unilaterally deprive employees for pay rightfully owed in exchange for holiday pay benefits the employer voluntarily extends.
Washington's L&I views overtime and holiday pay as separate and distinct. Thus, if you work more than 40 hours in a work week, you merit overtime pay." Saade notes that you can't include paid holiday hours in the work week unless you actually work them. However, your employer must include the holiday pay premium when calculating your overtime rate for that week.
"Under some occasions," Saade said, "Washington employers not subject to federal law may institute a 'comp time' program that allows workers to request time off at a later time in lieu of paid overtime wages. Any paid time off in lieu of overtime pay exchange must be instituted at the employee's request and agreed to by the employee in writing to prevent an employee being forced to forfeit overtime pay."
If your executive director fires you for asking the L&I a question, he violates federal law, specifically the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. His complaints to other staff about you and suggestion that you get a new job show poor judgment and possibly constitute illegal retaliation.
First, try to re-establish a positive relationship with your executive director. Ask your director for a meeting and let him know you want things to be better. Most work relationships don't sour this dramatically without both parties contributing to the dysfunction. What's your part? If you have overstepped boundaries yourself, apologize. Does your director email you at home because you don't meet legitimate work deadlines and he has to pick up the pieces? Is part of your overtime work done at home and your director justifiably needs to connect with you after hours? What leads him to not trust you?
If this doesn't work, escalate these issues to your board's grievance committee by calling your board chair. You have valid concerns about pay and your manager's treatment. Your board may investigate or offer to mediate a resolution. If not, and your executive director fires you, you have other re-course through those external agencies he didn't want you to contact.
-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.