Just because IRS raised mileage rate doesn't mean firm is required to pay it

CAN THEY DO THAT?

November 30, 2005|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

I recently took a business trip and drove more than 800 miles. I heard that the Internal Revenue Service mileage reimbursement rate had increased, but when I submitted my expense report I was told the company wouldn't adopt the new rate until January. I assumed that the company had to automatically readjust its rate. Can you clear this up for me?

For starters, companies don't have to adopt the IRS' standard mileage rate. If your company reimburses you for mileage at the current rate, which the price of gas has pushed up to 48.5 cents a mile - from 40.5 cents - for the final four months of 2005, then the IRS considers you to be reimbursed for mileage. So you couldn't legally claim any mileage expenses on your taxes. If, however, your company reimburses you above the rate, then the extra is considered as taxable. But if your company repays you below the going rate, you should note the difference on your federal tax return.

I work as a software developer for a large telecommunications company. I have no supervisory role. I am working on a project that even some managers consider impossible given the tight time frame. I am averaging 55 to 60 hours a week, sometimes as many as 70, with no extra pay. Can the company unilaterally decide not to pay overtime?

Your company can legally declare you ineligible for overtime if your employment meets the tests for a "computer employee exemption." Among the prime criteria: You have to be salaried and make at least $455 a week. Or if you're paid hourly, you must earn at least $27.63 an hour. Those facts are laid out in "FairPay Fact Sheet," No. 17e, published by the U.S. Labor Department.

A software engineer or "other similarly skilled worker in the computer field," the fact sheet says, is exempt from overtime if primary duties include "the design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs," among other things. So if your duties match those conditions, then your company probably has a legal license to ask you to work that ungodly number of hours. It doesn't seem fair. But it may be legal.

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

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