Say Anything: The Big Four Defense Of Overtime Exemptions

Say Anything: The Big Four Defense Of Overtime Exemptions

Although the state and federal wage and hour laws governing eligibility for overtime pay are complicated, the public policy issues they present for audit firms are not.

The largest public accounting firms want entry-level accounting graduates to feel like professionals, by virtue of their university degree, the potential to take the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam, and their eligibility to be licensed eventually. But when it comes to eligibility for overtime - or rather exemption from overtime - it's not who you think you are or where you came from but what you actually do that matters most.

The education of accounting majors consists, in the worst case scenario, of being "taught the exam" and, in the best case, of four to five years of head-down, hard-core study and rote memorization of facts with rarely any time for other outside reading, enrichment, travel, or world view development. If all goes well, the student gets the highest grades - the Big 4 limit interviews to only tippy-top students - and has a choice of internships and then full-time positions.

The firms take that raw material and, via constant on-the-job training, turn it into a finished product that can hopefully perform some portion of an audit of a public company after five or six years. The roles and responsibilities - and time served - at each level within the firm are rigidly defined. At each step along the way, there is another young professional with only a year of experience more who is assigning tasks and reviewing your work, until you're promoted to manager.

At the manager level, most firms require you to be licensed  - even though the only one who can take ultimate responsibility for an audit and sign the opinion is a qualified partner - and the assignments are more focused on the industry or technical aptitude you may have demonstrated along the way. Until then, most firms still treat individuals as fungible, pooled resources, assigned to teams or tasks by a central scheduler based on availability, location, and personal qualities. Dynamics between team members and between team members and client contacts become more important success factors over time.

Read this article in its entirety at the re: The Auditors, a blog by Francine McKenna.

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