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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Crackberry overtime

Scott Jagow Aug 10, 2009

Should hourly workers get paid overtime for responding to emails or answering calls after normal work hours? At least two new lawsuits may let the courts have a say in this.

Last month, some current and former employees of T-Mobile sued, saying they had to respond to work messages on company-issued phones after hours and didn’t get paid for it.

A few months ago, a former maintenance worker, John Rulli, sued real estate company CB Richard Ellis. More from the Wall Street Journal:

In the suit, Mr. Rulli said he was handcuffed to his phone because the company required him to quickly respond to messages at any hour.

CB Richard Ellis declined to address the specifics but said in a statement, “We believe this complaint is without merit and are contesting it vigorously.” The company said it complies with employment laws.

As far as the laws are concerned:

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act says employees must be paid for work performed off the clock, even if the work was voluntary. When the law was passed in 1938, “work” was easy to define for hourly employees…

Subsequent court decisions have interpreted the law to require some hourly employees to be paid for putting on and taking off work uniforms, like police gear, and for time spent while booting up computers, said Audrey Mross, a partner and head of the labor and employment division at Munck Carter LLP in Dallas.

This is an issue that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later, for the sake of productivity. Some employees probably have a legitimate beef that their company is abusing their time. But they might want to think twice about sending personal emails from their work phone or doing anything personal during work time. If the courts rule in the employees’ favor, 1984 at the office might be the result.

When I was traveling last week, I saw a billboard that said something like, “Have you responded to work emails on your home computer? If so, you may be entitled to compensation you haven’t received. Call the law offices of…”

So, more lawsuits may be coming. And I’m sure the clients will be billed for every single email from their attorney.

What’s your opinion here?

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