The Cost of Non-Billable Work

99 Texas Law Review Online 184 (2020)

U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-08

33 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2020 Last revised: 1 May 2020

See all articles by Martha M. Ertman

Martha M. Ertman

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Date Written: February 7, 2020


Tasks as small as organizing drinks after work and as big as designing the firm website increase profits, productivity, and hold an organization together. In the crisis conditions of the COVID-19 quarantine, workers created new systems to keep governments, businesses, and schools functioning while also figuring out new ways to keep staff safe, connected, and engaged. Yet employment law, managers and the workers themselves often ignore or devalue these non-billable tasks. That myopia perpetuates gender and racial inequity, since women—and even more so women of color—bear a disproportionate cost of non-billable work. One cost is that management pressure on women to “volunteer” for non-billable tasks shunts them away from tasks that lead to promotion and bonuses. This Article combines economic sociology, business advice literature, and employment law to address that problem by making non-billable work more visible, showing its value to organizations, and arguing that pay equity cases could redistribute the costs of non-billable work. It starts with examples of that work from the Jones Day gender discrimination lawsuit, then expands the analysis beyond law firm culture in a three-part typology that shows the many forms of non-billable work hidden in plain sight. A literature review explains how the work benefits organizations as well as why women do more of it. Finally, the Article proposes a metaphor—mosaic—to help lawyers, scholars, managers and workers see and more accurately value non-billable work. The mosaic metaphor could displace the reigning metaphor of “Hostile Worlds” that depicts altruism and self-interest as opposites, which enables organizations to simultaneously require, ignore, and devalue non-billable work merely because they see it as a gift to the organization. The metaphor of mosaic, in contrast, shows the mix of collegiality and economic exchange in non-billable work, which prevents the analytical error of believing that altruism crowds out the real economic benefits that the work confers on employers. That shift should help pay equity cases like the Jones Day litigation reallocate the cost of non-billable work where it belongs, with the organization.

Keywords: office housework, non-billable work, admin work, employment law, hostile worlds, gender expectations, service work

Suggested Citation

Ertman, Martha M., The Cost of Non-Billable Work (February 7, 2020). 99 Texas Law Review Online 184 (2020), U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-08, Available at SSRN:

Martha M. Ertman (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

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