As discussed in our previous blog post, the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal has dominated the sports and national headlines. Lost somewhat in the midst of an Incognito-Martin-centric sports news cycle were the recent health scares of Denver Broncos coach John Fox and Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak during week 9 of the NFL season. Fox, whose Broncos were on a bye week, experienced symptoms, including feeling light-headed, while golfing, and ended up having an aortic heart valve replacement procedure just days later. Kubiak, during the halftime of the Texans’ Sunday Night Football matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, collapsed on the field and was taken to a nearby hospital due to what doctors have described as a mini-stroke.
On the heels of these events, which occurred within 48 hours of each other, the health and work ethics of NFL coaches have come under scrutiny. Journalists, NFL analysts, and former players and coaches have discussed the need for the NFL to implement programs or procedures to create a healthier work environment for coaches. One former NFL player, Cris Collinsworth, has suggested the NFL implement a “7 to 7” rule, stating that teams should be forced to open its office doors at 7:00 a.m. and close them before 7:00 p.m. Others, including former head coach and NFL media analyst Brian Billick, state that the hours and pressure come with a job where you are judged on your performance week in and week out and that “we [coaches] do this to ourselves.”
The reality is that Fox and Kubiak are exempt employees and therefore are paid a salary for all hours worked and aren’t entitled to overtime. Absent specific industry or other regulations, or any applicable collective bargaining agreement, there is no limit to how many hours an exempt employee may work to perform his or her job. And since exempt employees aren’t entitled to overtime, employers often don’t care how many hours their exempt employees do in fact work.
Due to its public image, the NFL may evaluate whether to change its policies with respect to the working hours of its teams’ coaches or other employees. It may not. For most other employers, the belief is exempt employees have the ability to weigh the pros and cons of any position and choose to work in exempt positions that may require longer work hours, but provide a higher compensation in return. That doesn’t mean employers should turn an entirely blind eye to the work hours and habits of its exempt employees.
For obvious reasons, employers want to create a productive and efficient workplace, as well as retain the best talent, which means ensuring a certain quality of life for its employees and monitoring their performance. In addition, heart attacks, strokes, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, or other issues resulting from long working hours could entitle employees to workers’ compensation under applicable state law.
Although employers scrutinize–and for good reason–the hours worked by its nonexempt employees to ensure compliance with applicable wage and hour laws, being aware of the work hours and habits of all its employees, including exempt employees, is simply good practice. By doing so and taking the initiative, employers can be aware of potential issues before they manifest themselves, such as whether an exempt employee’s hours and production have fluctuated due to an apparent “disability” or other medical issue, thereby creating an obligation for the employer to engage in an interactive process regarding reasonable accommodations. Defense may win championships, but as they say, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.