Q: I was recently hired by an employer in the Boston area. I am grateful to have landed my first job in this economy. However, this is not my dream job. In just six months, they have increased my responsibilities and now I am covering for a colleague who is on a leave of absence. My work hours almost always go beyond the 40 hours per week that I signed up for when I started. Is this legal?
A: Congratulations on landing a role in a difficult economy. Although unemployment is the most well-known byproduct of challenging financial times, you are also facing a reality of this economy. Employers across industries are implementing cost-saving strategies to be more efficient. In some cases, companies are trying "to do more with less." Sometimes this translates into employees, like you, working additional hours or covering for a colleague during an absence.
Most US workers are "at-will." At-will employees are workers who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In general, an employer of an at-will employee can change an employee's duties, hours, titles or work location. If you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you may have some additional rights.
There are some possible positive outcomes of your situation. It sounds like you are a reliable employee (or else you would not have been given additional responsibilities). If your company has a history of internally promoting employees, this could work to your advantage. Employees who ?pitch in? and handle additional duties are often perceived as very valuable employees. If you explore other opportunities within your company, this willingness and strong work ethic could be a factor. Additionally, you are broadening your skills and experience. If you choose to look for another role, either inside or outside of your company, this additional experience could be more marketable.
Working beyond 40 hours per week is not that uncommon. Many of us work beyond 40 hours in a single work week when needed. My guess is that when you were hired, your company mentioned that this role was full-time (or 40 hour work week). However, their business needs and staffing levels may have changed. In most cases, requesting that you work beyond 40 hours is not illegal. There are some exceptions, especially if you are under 18 years of age. If you are a nonexempt employee, you may be entitled to pay for the hours that you work beyond 40 hours in a single work week.
Finally, many employees don't land a "dream job" when first entering the workforce. Instead, it is a stepping stone to other roles. Most employers would accept a one to two year commitment from an entry-level employee. A few pieces of advice that I will offer:
- perform your work to the best of your abilities
- begin to develop a network on peers and supervisors; these contacts are important as you move forward in your career
- minimize your complaints (few work environments are perfect)
- offer to help or assist with projects and tasks that could increase your skills, experience or visibility
- be dependable and show up with enthusiasm
- seek out mentors that can help provide feedback and further your career
- be respectful of your work time and avoid the traps that entry-level employees can fall into (just to name a few: excessive socializing -- both in-person and on social networking sites, negative cliques that seem to gossip or complain about others or the company)
Finally, understand that this role, while it may not be ideal, may be a good entry-level jobs that opens up other opportunities to you further in your career.