Overtime Compensation For Off-Shift Work E-Mails And Cell Phone Calls

With the growing popularity of smartphones and other devices that allow users to check e-mail, answer calls, and respond to texts, the number of people working while out of the office is growing.  Though many employees regularly do work over the internet outside of normal working hours, few are actually paid overtime for these hours. While it may be difficult to avoid work with growing advances in technology, workers may at least be entitled to receive compensation for work-related e-mailing, calling, or texting.

In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets strict requirements for overtime compensation. Under these laws, many workers may be entitled to receive overtime pay for their phone and internet usage outside of work hours. This is determined by an employee’s status with the employer as either “exempt” or “non-exempt.” While exempt employees may not receive overtime (including, for now at least, after-hours phone and e-mail usage), non-exempt employees may be able to receive overtime pay when forced to perform work functions after they return home. Even if an employer does not specifically require an employee to answer e-mails or correspondences after hours, the employee may still be eligible to receive overtime pay if the employer allows them to do so and if it is a regular occurrence.

So who is entitled to collect overtime for these after-work actions? Under the FLSA, there’s something that is called an exemption, and if an employee fulfills certain criteria, he or she may not be entitled to the minimum wage and/or overtime pay. Therefore, employees must first find out if they are considered exempt or nonexempt.  There are many exemptions with detailed requirements, but some include executives, managers, or administrators; farmworkers; seasonal recreational establishment employees; casual babysitters; or certain domestic service employees. Though there are many exemptions, most workers in the United States are considered nonexempt, and are therefore eligible to receive overtime.

While many workers seem to think that after-work e-mailing is quick and harmless, these hours can add up. If an individual checks work-related e-mail for only 15 minutes each day (including weekends), this adds up to over ninety overtime hours in the course of a year, which is a significant amount of time.  Recent class action lawsuits on this issue include cases filed on behalf of the Chicago Police Department and T-Mobile workers.

Overtime cases involving off-the-clock e-mail and cell phone use require analysis of federal statutes, U.S. Department of Labor regulations, and court decisions.  I can help you with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.


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