Reader: I am a VP of sales and marketing for eight locations on the East Coast — corporate office is in New York — and I work from my Virginia home when not traveling. I’m required to be in each location monthly, which means two weeks of travel, one week at the home office, two weeks travel, etc. When on location, I have no office. I use a smartphone for e-mails but cannot do work involving spreadsheets, reports, etc., unless I am in my hotel on my laptop. I usually start a day on the road at 6 a.m. on my laptop in the hotel, work all day on-site, then work from 6 to 9 p.m. in the hotel. To catch flights to be on-site, I leave home at 5 a.m. My employer expects me to clock 40 hours a week on-site and doesn’t count travel time as work time. I don’t mind working 50 to 60 hours a week, but this schedule is killing me; last week I did 85 hours, including travel time. I am salaried. I think travel time should count as work time. Are there labor laws regarding this?
Karla: As employment attorney Sharon Snyder of Ober | Kaler explained to me, labor laws and regulations address business travel in eye-crossing detail. Unfortunately, those details apply mostly to “nonexempt” (hourly wage) workers. “Exempt” (salaried) workers such as yourself are pretty much at the employer’s mercy.
Your best bet, then, is to make a pitch to the boss for working saner, not harder. Futurist Sara Robinson of AlterNet cites numerous studies showing that consistently grueling schedules actually make workers less productive — and your productivity should matter to your boss, even if your personal life doesn’t.
Some ideas to help your pitch:
● Personnel: Maybe it’s time to hire teammates to help cover your region.
● Technology: Virtual meetings are increasingly replacing costly, exhausting business travel. And if lugging a laptop on-site isn’t an option, a digital tablet might let you accomplish more than a smartphone.
● Intangibles: Is comp time an option? Do long hours translate into bonuses? Do you at least accrue air and hotel points you can use for personal travel? All these can help pull you from the brink of burnout.
Consider whether some of your crushing workload is self-imposed. Are you so conditioned to the hamster-wheel pace that you automatically take on what could be delegated or postponed? If the time you spend working in transit doesn’t “count,” why not use that as down time? If the answer is that 17-hour days are necessary to do it all, that sounds like an argument for hiring someone to share the load.
Karla Miller lives with her family in South Riding, Va. For 16 years, she has written for and edited tax publications. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.