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Time of Your Life

ESPs Should Be Compesnsated for Overtime Work

Dave Arnold

We've all heard the saying, "time is money." UniServ Representative Rich Mullins of the Kentucky Education Association adds a twist to that idea: "It's your time, don't give it away!"

I'd like to take it another step: "Your time is your life. Don't give it away!" However you phrase it, what these sayings can mean to ESPs is, "don't work for free."

Deserved Pay

Rich was a presenter at the National Education Association's 2007 Education Support Professionals (ESP) Conference in Nashville. He pointed out that while ESPs work at various jobs and have different motivations for employment, there is one cold hard fact that they share with most everyone on the planet: paying bills.

Creditors are not interested in how many extra hours we worked for free. They are not interested in our "good intentions." They want to get paid. My tax collector is less interested in how much I enjoy my job as head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School, as in me writing the city a fat check.

Our Own Fault

It is a chronic illness among ESPs to work extra time without pay. But, the source of this disease is within us. In other words, many ESPs work extra time and do not report it. Part of this predicament is our fault.

Rich says an administrator will often ask an employee to work during their lunch hour, at break time, or at a PTA fundraiser. They will justify the request by saying, "It's for the kids."

Yes, we know. Everything ESPs do is for the children. But we also must remind ourselves that we have bills to pay. We have to make a living for our families and ourselves. Administrators aren't necessarily out to get us, they just don't want to cut into their budget. They don't want to pay for something -- overtime -- they can get for free.

Follow the Law

The law is on the side of ESPs. It states that a person must be compensated for every minute of time they work for their employer, which can be through hourly wages or a salary. Some employees may be considered exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Even so, employees must be advised of extra work and agree to it as a condition of their salary and employment.

When an ESP is asked to work overtime without pay, it is wrong and a violation of labor laws. Workers must be compensated for overtime. By compensation, I mean that they should be paid for their time or receive time off from work.

Sometimes the employer might argue that the employee voluntarily forfeited their right to overtime compensation as a donation to the school. There is nothing wrong with an employee making a donation of money or time to the school. But the law says that the employer must be able to show proof that the employee was compensated for the hours worked and that the employee then made the donation in return.

Time Slips Away

At the ESP conference, Rich also said that when an employee has not been compensated for every hour of work, and they have a legitimate grievance, it's grounds for a legal case if not rectified by the employer. If the employer does not correct the matter and the employee can show proof that they have not been compensated for the time they have worked, then the employee should contact the labor board of their state or The Federal Wage Hour and Rate Commission. The employer's records will then be reviewed and any errors in lack of compensation by the employer may be corrected.

For every minute that an employee works, that time of their life is gone and can never be restored. To give up that portion of your life in trade for monetary gain is what we all must do to pay our bills.

When an employer does not compensate a person for their time, then to my thinking the employer has robbed the employee of that precious time in their life. Your time is your life, don't give it away!

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.