More overtime tussles for tech companies?

Lawsuits over overtime pay could become more common as the tech sector grapples with shifting employment regulations.

A spate of lawsuits and new government rules has the tech industry scratching its head over overtime.

The decision earlier this year by computer-game titan Electronic Arts to reclassify some of its employees as hourly workers eligible for overtime pay but not for bonuses or stock options has helped bring the issue to the fore.

EA's move followed several suits filed by workers who claim game-software companies, and tech-services giant Computer Sciences, violated overtime rules. And still more lawsuits could be ahead, partly because of a controversial--and some say confusing--revamping of federal overtime rules last year.


What's new:
A spate of lawsuits and new government rules has tech workers and their employers scratching their heads over overtime.

Bottom line:
Thousands of technology professionals could be missing out on compensation they deserve, advocates say, while employers could face a higher risk of lawsuits to ascertain whether they're getting compensation right.

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"It's become very complicated," said Jeffrey Tarter, executive director of the Association of Support Professionals, who also pointed to the muddying effect of the shift to round-the-clock tech support. "The rules are pretty close to incomprehensible on this issue."

For employers, the uncertainty could lead to new headaches in calculating who gets overtime pay, and a higher risk of lawsuits to sort out whether they got it right. In addition, industry leaders claim overtime litigation and rules--which are stricter in the tech mecca of California--threaten to undermine the entrepreneurial spirit and economic viability of technology companies.

But worker advocates argue that thousands of tech professionals could be missing out on compensation they deserve, while others could lose overtime eligibility.

Allen Graves, who represents a plaintiff in an overtime pay lawsuit against Vivendi Universal Games, makes the case that many programmers in California making less than the state's statutory ceiling--roughly $46 per hour--are routinely being cheated when they work long hours.

"The vast majority of computer programmers are entitled to overtime pay and are not getting it," he said.

Do pros punch the clock?
Underlying the issue is what tech workers themselves think about earning overtime pay. Historically, the field has been defined largely as professional work, having little in common with jobs that require punching a clock. But that may be changing in era of outsourcing, offshoring and contingent work relationships, said Rob Helm, director of research at analysis firm Directions on Microsoft.

Especially for those computer pros working on a contract basis or through a staffing company, overtime pay looks attractive, he said.

"When you have work, you better get compensated pretty heavily," Helm said. "Because you may be headed for a period when you don't have any."

A growing number of employees are claiming technology companies are violating overtime pay law. In the computer games sector in

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