I’m At Hooters

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.



A business owner from the free state of Florida called me the other day to share a conversation he just had with one of his experienced Account Managers. As part of the owner’s mid-afternoon review of the company’s GPS tracking of vehicle locations, he noticed an Account Manager’s truck had been stationary for an extended period of time at an address that did not match any known client site. Quizzically, the owner called the Account Manager to check on the situation to make sure everything was okay.

Dutifully, the Account Manager answered the phone at which time the owner inquired “Where are you?”

The Account Manager responded confidently, “I’m at Hooters.”

With I’m sure, a tinge of surprised inflection, the owner asked “What are you doing there?”

The Account Manager simply retorted: “Reviewing my emails on the laptop, making calls to customers on the cell phone, and completing enhancements proposals that I will submit to you later this afternoon.”

So far, we know the Account Manager is confident, honest, and industrious. As a capitalist, I say: Keep up the good work.

Just not at Hooters!

Apparently, the Account Manager misinterpreted his exempt status, well beyond legal norms and administrative standards. By way of background, it is commonly understood that exempt employees are granted flexibility in their work schedule, not bound by the standard 40-hour workweek applicable to non-exempt employees.

One of the main differences between exempt employees and non-exempt employees is that exempt employees receive a set salary for the work they perform, while non-exempt employees earn a wage rate for the hours they work. To wit: Exempt employees receive the same salary whether they work 32 hours or 52 hours in a week; non-exempt employees receive differential pay based on the number of hours they work in a week. Oh, by the way, if an exempt employee works 50 hours in one week, the company does not “owe” him/her 10 hours of leave time in the next week, payroll period, or “in the future.”

In point of fact, I strongly recommend that the word “hours” never be used when talking with any exempt employee, since exempt employees are forthrightly paid based on attaining established performance expectations, business goals, and work assignments regardless of the number of “hours” it takes to complete said responsibilities. To discuss “hours” with an exempt employee, fundamentally blurs the strict legal line differentiating exempt and non-exempt status. Such unintentional ambiguity often leads to a wage and hour lawsuit in which the employee alleges s/he was actually a non-exempt employee and by derivation, is now due back pay for all incurred but unpaid overtime hours, missed meal periods, etc. for the past three/four years depending upon the state you are in.

Do yourself a favor: Never use the word “hours” when speaking with an exempt employee.

It appears the Account Manager took creative license with the predicate of his exempt status vis-à-vis work time autonomy, and extrapolated that same degree of autonomy to the work location of his choice. Wrong.

As I explained to the owner, while exempt employees are granted flexibility, the owner can require exempt employees to work in certain locations (e.g., job sites, main office, client settings). For example, exempt employees can be held accountable to work in the main office, to accommodate various work demands (e.g., team meetings, supervisory responsibilities, administrative procedures). In sum, exempt employees cannot unilaterally determine where work gets conducted.

That point was made quite clear during owner’s eventual “coaching” session with the Account Manager.

Call me cynical, but I don’t think that coaching session took place at Hooters.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.