In an open-all-night world, where emails and texts can be sent at all hours, business owners can reap the benefits of a connected workforce but are also faced with the potential issues that total, constant connectivity can bring.
As one example, hourly employees meandering off the clock to answer emails or work on projects unsolicited can be a problem. They may mean well, but after-hours work can be a minefield of legal obligations for the employer.
After-hours use of technology may result in extra pay and reimbursable expenses.
Hourly (non-exempt) employees must be paid for all hours worked and work performed in excess of 40 hours per week (plus in CA, AK, & NV over 8 hours in a day, and in CO over 12 hours in a day) and those excess hours need to be paid a premium. Any overtime, worked with permission or not, must be paid. A policy should be in place to specify that authorization is required prior to working extra hours as that will allow you to counsel any employees who choose not to follow it. Appropriate limits to technology used after hours should also be considered, as once an employer starts to rely on employees’ personal mobile devices for work communication purposes, they may be looking at reimbursable expenses in some states.
So what CAN employers do to try to control potential overtime and other related costs?
- Restrict Email access
While there may be employees who you need to have the company email account loaded into their phones, it probably is not necessary for all employees to have it. It may be prudent to limit access only to those who you truly need to be reachable after hours. Access for hourly employees, especially, should be considered carefully as if they answer emails or take phone calls off the clock, they need to be paid for that time. If these employees do need occasional access, expectations should be clear on what is deemed urgent enough to warrant immediate attention and what can – and should – wait until the following business day.
- Resist the Urge to Text
Texting can be a convenient, quick method of communication to confirm schedules or answer a quick question but beware of long work-related conversations via text after hours as those sessions could be compensable time.
Texting by nature is a quick and “short form” method of writing where tone and intent may not be clear and could escalate a bad situation unnecessarily if the message is misunderstood. In general, conversations with employees about issues that involve a long back-and-forth exchange are best handled via phone or in person with a written email or memo as a follow-up during work hours to avoid logging any extra time worked and ensure the situation is clear on both sides.
- Unassigned Homework
While a business wants conscientious employees, there may be those employees who may be tempted to take work home to get a jump start on it even if it is not necessary. Not only could this create confidentiality issues depending on what kind of files are being removed from the office and they are being accessed electronically but any work done from home is extra paid time. Ensuring employees are given reasonable due dates and timelines may help avoid this, as well as reiterating your policies on after-hours work. Management should also be instructed to not encourage employees haul work home unless they are prepared to pay for the time.
- Adjustment to Culture
Perhaps a key part of successfully managing in a 24/7 working world is to set your own organization limits on connectivity, even among your exempt, salaried employees. If hourly employees get the sense that commitment to their jobs equates to late-night work and being available at any hour, it can cause confusion and worry when they are not allowed the chance to live up to these expectations. Those employees not paid by the hour should be encouraged to unplug at the end of a workday on occasion. Specifying in after-hours emails that an answer isn’t required until the next day may assist with ensuring employees know that it isn’t necessary to respond immediately, no matter the hour.