Extra pay to help out a colleague?

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Q: I was recently asked to fill in for a colleague, who went on a medical leave.  There were a few of us who chipped in, since it would only be a few weeks that she was planning to be out.  It was a few extra hours of work per week.  My question is do you think my employer should compensate me for this extra work?  I figure if I was working a few extra hours somewhere else I would get paid.  What do most companies do?  I feel like we have a good team and we work for a good company. 

A: Covering for a colleague, who is on a medical leave, is admirable.  I am certain that your employer appreciates your flexibility and willingness to handle some additional work.  You will likely earn a reputation of being a valuable employee and team player.  I would hope that this colleague, if requested, would do the same for you one day.  A high performing team often helps another colleague when that person is unable to perform their job.

If you are a non-exempt employee (eligible for overtime pay), additional compensation may be required if you work extra hours.  In Massachusetts, if you are a non-exempt employee and you work more than 40 hours of work in a single work week, you are eligible to be paid at time and one-half for any additional hours.  However, exempt employees are not legally required to be paid for any additional hours of work time.

Companies vary on how they handle this type of compensation challenge for exempt employees.  Some employers will not offer any additional compensation when one employee covers for another.  In some companies, it is an expectation to help out another area if they are short-staffed, for whatever reason.  Other companies will offer a token thank-you, perhaps a gift card or similar.  While other companies will offer some compensation, it may be a modest amount, especially if the medical leave was shorter in length and others chipped in too.  Very few companies offer significant compensation unless the duration of the period covered was extensive and required consistent additional hours, including work performed over weekends and evenings.

It sounds like you work on a team where others step up and support each other when needed.  In itself, that is a sign of a collaborative team.  Kudos to you and your team members for assisting a colleague during a difficult time.  Some workplaces are not as fortunate!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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