It was a Friday evening in 2002 and I was flying home from a deal closing in Houston.

And I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, which wasn’t all that unusual for me at the time.

I was two years out of law school working for a “BigLaw” firm (lawyer slang for a large, full-service law firm). My life revolved around the firm. Sixty plus hour work weeks were the norm. Partners dumping projects on my desk at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday (yes, I was always still at my desk) with a “just get it to me sometime before Sunday evening” so my work product could sit in their inboxes until they got around to looking at it a week later. Plans cancelled so many time at the last minute that you stop making plans.

Back to that Friday evening. I had spent the previous two days in Houston working on a deal closing. Think teams of lawyers frantically trying to finalize hundreds of documents.

So I am sitting on the flight home next to one of my colleagues, an associate who was a few lawyer years ahead of me. He was also a few life years ahead of me as well as he was married with a kid. He turns to me and asks, “How the heck do you find time to date? Don’t you want to get married?”

I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think about it.”

Understatement of the year.

His comment planted a seed and three years later I moved on to an infinitely better job, but not before getting married, taking a proper honeymoon, and taking a three month paid maternity leave.

I’m not the only one who’s had a job that’s 24/7, expected to cancel plans at a moment’s notice, work weekends and holidays, and answer calls and respond to emails at all hours of the day.

If you have a 24/7 job, are you entitled to extra compensation? Can your boss really make you be on call 24/7? How can you stop working such crazy hours?

Let’s start with the money. Are you entitled to extra compensation (including time off)?

The answer to that question depends on what type of employee you are.

All employees are divided into two groups, exempt and non-exempt. What’s the difference? The main difference is “exempt” employees are exempt from being paid overtime (anything over 40 hours/week), as guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Non-exempt employees get paid overtime, exempt employees do not.

So how do you know what kind of employee you are?

Exempt employees are paid a salary, instead of an hourly wage, and earn at least $455 per week. Types of exempt employees include executives, professionals, sales people, administrators, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Can your boss really make you work nights, weekends and holidays, and be on call 24/7?

The answer to that question is yes.

If you are a non-exempt employee, your boss can ask you to work overtime and be on call 24/7, but he has to pay you overtime.

If you are an exempt employee, your boss can require you to work nights, weekends, and holidays, and be on call 24/7, if doing so is necessary to accomplish the “fundamental job objectives.”

If your boss is really trying to cover two jobs by making you work more than 40 hours of week all of the time (and weekends and holidays), you could have a good argument that your job should be reclassified as non-exempt. If that’s your situation, contact the Department of Labor.

If that’s not your situation, you’re out of luck. Put on another pot of coffee because it’s going to be a long night.

Wait! Isn’t there anything I can do to get my boss to back off and get back some of my free time?

Here is what I would have told the 26 year old me.

First and foremost, no job is worth your health and sanity. Avoid jobs (heck even industries) that require you to work round-the-clock.

When negotiating for your job, discuss the actual time commitments. This is as or even more important than salary. What hours will you be expected to work in the office? What about nights and weekends? If you run into trouble later, refer back to these negotiations.

Don’t be afraid to gently push back against your boss. Just because he dumps it on your desk on a Friday evening doesn’t mean it has to be done by Monday morning. Make it clear to your boss that you are always available for emergencies (and remember to always respond promptly to emergencies), but set clear boundaries for personal time. If your boss pushes back, consider teaming up with a co-worker to alternate who will handle issues that come up over the weekend.

If work emails and phone calls are routinely ruining your nights, weekends, and holidays, Alison Green of Ask the Manager has some great tips. Try stop checking your email and responding to email and phone calls for one weekend (or some lesser amount of time that feels comfortable to you) and just see what happens. Set a time each weekend when you will be checking email (and communicate that time with your boss and team).

So what’s your strategy for surviving a 24/7 job? Coffee? Running for the hills? Leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.