Supreme Court: No Overtime for Pharma Sales Reps. WHAAAAAAH.

by Darwin on June 27, 2012


Do you know the annoying, pushy people that try to jump ahead of you in the doctor’s office when you’re there for a real reason? like a health issue? Yeah, those people. In between buying lunch for the doctors and schmoozing the receptionists, apparently, a few sales reps found time to conjure up a lawsuit that they should be entitled to overtime from their employers for all their hard work.

Well, the verdict from the Supreme Court with a 5-4 vote is finally in and they are NOT entitled to overtime (BusinessWeek). According to the suit, a couple sales reps felt entitled to overtime and filed a class-action lawsuit based on the following:


“Their jobs required them to meet with doctors in their offices, but also to attend conventions, dinners, even golf outings.”


No, this is not a joke.  Seriously.  White collar professionals wanted overtime to play golf.  Here are my thoughts as someone in the industry who knows many pharma sales reps, other industry sales reps and someone as having held a prior white collar overtime eligible job.

First off, cry me a river.

After a few years on the job, many pharma sales reps earn north of $100,000 a year (See how you can get your own 6-Figure Job). Not that what you actually make should dictate whether or not you get overtime, the bottom line is that for the amount of time spent actually “working”, the background required (looks matter more than actual educational/professional credentials) and what they do, the pay is actually quite attractive. At a time when the whole model of throwing dozens of sales reps at each doctor is being squashed (thousands of layoffs in industry each year as the old blockbuster model collapses), rather than being happy to still be gainfully employed, there’s a perennial chorus of reps complaining about not getting overtime.  I’ve heard the complaint before, seen it on CafePharma (which thousands of sales reps frequent all day) and it finally went to court.

12 Hours a Week

I know a few sales reps both through my own job and in my neighborhood. The job is pretty damn sweet. Granted, I don’t have the personality for it.  You need to literally be a cheerleader (male or female), be super extroverted, look the look, talk the talk, etc.  Not for me, but if it is, you get a company car, have all kinds of expenses paid for, work out of your house and have very little oversight/accountability throughout the day. One of our good friends who was a “top selling rep in her region” (have you ever actually met one who isn’t? Everyone seems to have this same designation like how every little leaguer gets a trophy?) used to meet my wife all the time for lunch when she was on her “runs”. Even though her routes were nowhere near our house, she’d get bored and look for stuff to do with her time after she did her errands and worked out during the workday. My wife had just had a baby so she used to come visit all the time to kill time during the day. Curious, I asked her one time that if she had to quantify how long it actually took her to complete her runs and paperwork, etc. for the week, what number she’d come up with. She said “Honestly, about 12-13 hours”.

I figured there was a lot of fluff in there, but 12-13 hours? That’s crazy! You probably know the reps in your neighborhood that are out mowing their lawns and working out during the day while your butt schlepps off to the office. Well, they think they deserve overtime.

Sure, there are the occasional dinners, travel or off-hours meetings that reps feel mandate overtime pay. But what about the rest of the world? I run international teams and have to host meetings anywhere from 6AM to 11PM, when I travel internationally, I usually leave on a Saturday or Sunday to get acclimated for a meeting several time zones away, and I often take work home with me. I don’t get overtime and I would never expect it.  I try to work around 45-60 hours a week and it all balances out in the end.  I don’t expect overtime for each hour over 40, this isn’t Greece.

I’m a Professional. And I knew the job when I took it.

Granted, I used to get overtime as a production supervisor back in the day. That was a white collar job with an annual salary, bonus, options and all that good stuff so it may seem hypocritical, but there’s a clear delineation. In the plant, we used to have to cover 48 hours of production every weekend and there was no weekend supervisor. So, to me, that is perfectly logical that there’s a costed production step with paid staffing/shift so naturally, outside of the standard 5×3 weekday shifts, you’d pay overtime for supervision for those weekend shifts (and Holidays since you’re working while everyone else is off on company holiday). Otherwise, who the heck is going to work those shifts? But jobs like my current one, sales reps and many others are very flexible. If you travel one night, you go in late the next morning. There’s nobody with a stopwatch waiting for you to punch your card. You get it done.

Aside from the fact that very few pharma sales reps are actually “working” more than the 45-60 hours/week a typical white collar worker puts in everywhere else in the country, their pay is highly tied to their performance by way of performance bonuses that comprise a high percentage of their salary. Isn’t that kinda like double-dipping? You work a few extra hours each week to rack up more sales, beat out your fellow sales reps, and get both a higher bonus AND overtime?

I dunno, to me, it would completely bastardize the whole notion of overtime requirements for companies in America. It would incentivize reps to work even slower, right? More dinners. More golf.  More time at the airport.  At least with production, a shift is a shift and if you have to be there for coverage, you’re forced to work those hours and should be compensated for off-hours and weekend shifts. But routine white collar jobs? If pharma sales reps deserve overtime, then doesn’t everybody? I don’t see how a court could mandate that and have the US remain competitive.  In fact, I’m surprised 4 justices even voted in favor of the plaintiffs.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Am I Over-Stating the Perks of the Pharma Sales Rep?

Do Other White-Collar Workers Deserve Overtime?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely June 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

What surprises me is that the decision was so close. 5 – 4? IMO what an employer and employee decide is their business. If you want to be entitled to something, negotiate it on the contract. I also agree with you that there’s a big difference between a production line and “overtime” on the golf course, haha…


Darwin June 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm

They voted down party lines (by party of president who nominated them) aside from Roberts. Many of these Supreme Court decisions come down to political affiliation. Almost makes who your president is more important than his good or bad policies… if a sitting justice dies or resigns during your term, you can nominate your own type and change the course of law in the country.


Roger the Amateur Financier June 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I’m trying really, really hard to feel any sort of pity for these sales reps, but being as I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry on the production side (and hope to work there again), where most of the salaries get nowhere NEAR six figures while definitely not involving any golfing or nice dinners, I just can’t seem to draw any pity. Overtime is one of those issues that is always tricky, at least for white collar work, like you said, but sales reps, pharmaceutical or not, definitely seem like one area that shouldn’t be enjoying overtime pay. (If you can boost your income by selling more (or having doctors you consult prescribe more medication, I suppose), that should be all the incentive you need.


Wayne @ Young Family Finance June 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Wow – asking for overtime pay to play golf. My father is a sales rep (not pharma) and he definitely puts in well over 40 hours a week, but he knew the nature of the job going into it. And he is salaried. I doubt that these pharma reps are clocking in hourly. If you’re not paid an hourly wage, how could you determine overtime?


Darwin July 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

They get pissed when you put a tracking device on the vehicles too. Want the lack of oversight AND OT


Rich@Money Wise Pastor July 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

I agree with you. They knew when they were hired that their job was classified as being exempt from overtime rules because they were “outside sales” people.


Paula @ Afford Anything July 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I think the notion of hourly pay, especially for professionals, is outdated. As you said, “It would incentivize reps to work even slower.” Pay should be based on results, not hours.


Darwin July 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Gee, outsourcing is a problem now? First the administration has the NLRB bully Boeing into telling them where they can or can’t build a plant. Next, they force OT on all companies? That would have been the death knell.


becca July 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

” If pharma sales reps deserve overtime, then doesn’t everybody?”
I think that’s kind of the point.

I’ve got no special sympathy for pharma reps (rather, I have a distinct hostility toward them), but in an economy where manufacturing represents a smaller and smaller proportion of the jobs, no overtime for pharma reps because they’re “white collar” basically means a legal precedent of no overtime for anybody.

Also, the *reason* this is a “victory for the pharma companies” isn’t that it would break their banks to pay O/T. It’s because the supreme court is admitting that pharma salespeople are employed to SELL (not to “educate physicians about drug options”). This means that the legal prohibition against contracting with physicians could be on shaky ground. This has dramatic implications for anyone who will ever need prescription medication, or is covered by health insurance, not just people in the drug industry or sales people wanting overtime.
Did you really miss those implications??


aram October 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

This post is absurd. You do concede that the high salary of these sales reps doesn’t change the relevant law. Neither does the fact that you work long hours, or the fact that many sales reps work less than 40 hours. Whatever decision-making process the supreme court used, I’ll bet it was based on laws and precedent, rather than emotional arguments like yours about whether they deserve sympathy.

(Note: I don’t particularly like pharma sales reps, and I have no opinions at all about whether they deserve overtime. I also have no idea whether the court decided the case correctly.)


Darwin October 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

How can you call a post absurd if you didn’t even read it?
Read it.
Try again.


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