If You Carry A Blackberry And Are Paid Hourly, Do You Count Checking Your Email As Time Working?

from the does-checking-your-Blackberry-count-as-work dept

We’ve talked about the question of the work-life balance plenty of times, as people begin to recognize that “life” (such as personal surfing) is showing up in the office and “work” (such as checking your email) is showing up at home. However, that’s leading to a few problems with some legacy systems. For example, what does it mean for workers who are paid on an hourly basis, with the potential for overtime? That problem recently came up when ABC News tried to make it clear to new staff writers that they couldn’t count time checking their Blackberries as being work hours for overtime purposes. While the two sides settled this issue internally, it does raise plenty of questions for other hourly workers who are still expected to “check-in” from time to time outside of the office. This might not be a huge problem, as many jobs that require a Blackberry tend not to be paid hourly — but these types of issues are likely to keep showing up as workplaces struggle to deal with changing work and lifestyles.

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Comments on “If You Carry A Blackberry And Are Paid Hourly, Do You Count Checking Your Email As Time Working?”

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49 Comments
Justin Ried (user link) says:

Balance and reason

Every job is unique, and it’s a bit silly for employers (and employees) to be so black and white on the issue. With a salaried position comes the highs and lows of business activity, with the assumption that compensation corresponds to some sort of median level of productivity. Some days are busy, others aren’t. Some days you check email at home, other days you don’t.

It’ll take a while for the general sentiment catch up with always on, always available technology – but the key remains to be reasonable.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

Or is it a break if you

  • grab a coffee
  • go to the bathroom
  • idle chatter around the water cooler
  • not focus 100% on work while at your desk
  • ignore an incoming phone call
  • etc…

Those who look to squeeze every penny out of the workplace had better make sure the workplace doesn’t look to do the same…

Wolferz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think, by law, things like going to the bathroom or stopping to get a drink of water are protected and the employer can not penalize you in any way regarding them.

Idle chatter around the water cooler or getting coffee are generally O.K. but, if paid hourly, you should clock out for 15 minutes or, if salaried, you should limit how often you do this and return to work promptly upon completing your drink. Not focusing on your work depends on the circumstances… If you’re not focusing on your work because your wife called to let you know she can’t pick the kid up from school and your mentally shuffling your schedule around in your mind to find time to pick him up yourself, that is acceptable. If you’re not focusing on your work cause you’re day dreaming about golf with Tiger Woods later or playing solitaire on your computer, then that isn’t. Ignoring a phone call is never ok unless its clear that you are not expected to be working right then (like after office hours and when not on-call).

Technically it can be said that checking personal email at work technically does not profit the company and should not be done on company time. However, in the long run allowing employees to check their personal email, and other small trivial personal tasks, when kept in moderation, CAN improve company profits. Forcing employees to put their noses to the grind stone and never stop except when they take their one or two clearly defined breaks each day will serve only to wear them out and leave them incapable of being as productive as they otherwise would be. Not all people are capable of switching into one-track-mind mode. Those people need a little bit of distraction here and there just to clear their head. That way when they return to the work at hand they can focus and do it right.

Taking long breaks to call up your drinking buddies and shoot the breeze, answering all of the 15 chain emails from family and friends, updating your myspace profile, or otherwise blatantly goofing off in a manner that takes significant amounts of time away from your work is not appropriate. However, taking just a moment to see if that important email from your ebay purchase has been answered yet (but not necessarily acting on the results) shouldn’t be a big deal and can be beneficial in the long run.

mobiGeek says:

Re: WHOA THERE!

That’s a pretty absolute statement.

What about the fact that friends of mine email and/or call me on my “work” BlackBerry?

My work isn’t just something I spend 8 hours a day doing and then I shut off at night. Just the same as my life doesn’t shut down during the 8 hours I spend in the office.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: WHOA THERE!

I’m paid hourly and you’re damned right I’ll bill for OT if the BlackBerry bleeps after the end of my day for an email that I have to respond to and requires that I work.

It’s called overtime for a reason, remember.

While my private life doesn’t cease between 8am and 4pm there are a grand total of three people outside of my workplace that know my corporate email address and understand that it’s for emergency use only.

Kinda the same as what I do with my company cell number, which also rings in on the BlackBerry.

I’ve found over the years that sanity is best protected and improved by the following:

1) I have a work life.
2) I have a real life.
3) They are NOT the same and in the end #2 is what’s really important and makes it possible to do #1 well.

Friends can and do call my home number during the day and leave messages. It doesn’t seem to be any problem for them.

Anyway, it’s a real pain trying to talk to a friend or family while I do what I do where it’s required that I concentrate on the task at hand.

ttfn

John

HR says:

Re: Re: WHOA THERE!

If your friends are calling your BlackBerry or emailing you then you are not working. If an hourly employee is using their BB for work purposes and isnt logging that time, the employer can be in trouble if the Department Of Labor comes in and audits them. It takes one complaint to issue an ivestigation by the DOL. All they have to do is request Email records and they will know what is work and what is not. Anything work related needs to be compensated to a hourly employee. That is just the FLSA law.

sonofdot says:

Re: Re: Think like that

And you’ll get it in the end, almost guaranteed. Every company on Earth is looking for that hourly worker who will work hours and hours for the company for free. Then they’ll make you a salaried employee, and expect even more of the same. Enjoy your promotion, fool.

Here are some words to live by:

Don’t ever work for free.
Don’t accept promises or handshakes — get it in writing.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Think like that

“And you will stay an hourly worker. Give a little and get some in return, or better yet let me get the promotion for being a “go getter!””

As that would mean a cut in base pay, a loss of responsibility and influence I think I’ll pass.

If I wanted to push paper I’d be salaried.

I don’t. I’m a technician, craftsman and tradesman all wrapped into one and I am damn good at what I do.

Anyway, there’s much less stress in turning it all off at the end of the day and having a real life.

ttfn

John

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: WHOA THERE!

That’s silly, personal use if the company funded telephone is one of the perks at my husband’s job. Saves us forty-plus dollars per month for a cell phone.

So…

If he receives a work e-mail or telephone call during non-business hours, and sometimes he does, it’s billable time at overtime rates. This ensures that he’s not bugged by idiots who are ZOMFG!!!!!!!11eleventyone!!!11!!!! important without good reason.

If he receives a personal call during working hours, it would not result in any sort of sanction of his paycheck, provided that it doesn’t interfere with his work. For instance, he calls me quite a bit when he’s driving to long-distance locales.

HOWEVER, these rules were set when he took the job. His last job was not as complacent about personal calls during business hours but did NOT provide the BlackBerry, although one was required. Once again, those rules were set when he took the job.

So basically, I don’t believe there is, or should be, a set rule throughout the business world. I think it should be something discussed at the beginning of the employment relationship, because circumstances differ entirely too much.

Chatter says:

Should I get paid for responding to this blog?

As an hourly consultant, I had to accurately track my billing to clients, ensuring that I didn’t charge them for things like reading Techdirt or checking my email for another client. If you are required to have a BlackBerry for work, you should negotiate with your employer what is considered to be work: Looking at an email for 30 seconds, or the 15 min to respond to the email? Also, in my experience, jobs that require the 24×7 availability have a bit more salary than one that let’s you leave at 5pm without ever having to think about work till the next morning.

Doug (profile) says:

FLSA - Fair Labor Standards Act

The article is speaking to the Fair Labor Standards Act which is what governs how US companies have to pay employees (or at least meet the federal standards since it can vary by state). The definition of the law is better explained by lawyers, which I am not, but basically if you are a non-exempt (hourly) employee and working on your BlackBerry at home then it’s technically considered work and thus should be paid and also count toward overtime. Of course your Company may have a policy dictating that you not do this….

Matt (profile) says:

no point in this argument

I’m salaried and even when I was hourly (temp) at the same location I still occasionally posted to techdirt. So what?

It’s been proven before that people’s minds wander sometimes and you need to step out for a minute to regain full productivity. If a company is nitpicking this far then they have way more problems than nickle and dime-ing their employees.

Tom The Toe says:

I'm hourly

The company provides me with a phone that will text me when there is a server problem. All time is counted in 15 minute increments to keep accounting practicle. If I work 10 minutes it’s counted as 15 if I work 20 it’s counted as 1/2 an hour etc. I’m not considered on call but I always have remote access to the data center and am expected to respond. As part of the give and take I have alot of freedom when it comes to actual time off (I do shut off my access when on vacation). And no one is looking over my shoulder when I’m doing my job. I’m also allowed to work a flexable schedule as I see fit, as long as I do 40hrs. If I want to work 4 hours in the morning then 4 hrs at nitght that’s fine. If I have 40 in by friday I take the day off or I can do the overtime if I wish.

Anonymous Coward says:

Everybody in my department has a Blackberry now except for me. I am the only hourly employee, where everyone else is on salary. I’m told that HR won’t allow me to have one because if I check email after hours, supposedly they’d have to pay overtime, and so on and so forth. I think that’s complete BS, and feel cheated and demeaned because I’m the only one left out. With the type of work I could do, I could easily be on salary, but am not simply because my position is considered entry-level.

I personally don’t have a problem putting in a little extra time and not reporting or getting paid for it, as long as it’s not something I’m forced to do. If I check my work email on my own time, which I can already do via our VPN system, that’s my business, and I wouldn’t dream of reporting it for overtime. As I said, I can already check my work email through remote access, even from my iPod Touch, and I have been issued a company cell phone for work use. How is having a Blackberry any different? The bottom line is that it’s stupid black & white policies dictated by an HR department that doesn’t have a clue.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

I have a question

Are these people being required to check their E-Mail or is it just their choice?

If my boss said that I must keep up with my E-Mail at home than I’m going to expect some compensation, but I don’t expect overtime pay just because I decide to look ahead. I also wouldn’t expect overtime pay for something as simple as checking E-Mail just relaxed beginning and end times.

Tom The Toe says:

Re:

“The bottom line is that it’s stupid black & white policies dictated by an HR department that doesn’t have a clue.” The policies are dictated by the state and federal goverment and the company has to protect itself from fines and sanctions for non compliance. To err on the side of good policy they should have you report all company related off work time including time you are connected via VPN. Actually the network admin should be reporting time you are connected just to protect the company. Non compliance could cost them state and federal contracts.

DS78 says:

Ugh.. BlackBerrys

I’m one of the few salaried people at my company that refuses to take a BlackBerry (one other guy did as well). I know exactly how much e-mail I get when I’m “off” (which is never). I don’t want the responsibility of having to respond to insignificant little issues in the middle of the night.

In case of emergency they can call on my freebie phone phone they procured from a Cracker Jack box, just to spite me not taking a BlackBerry.

Anyways, kudos to the hourly brave who bill out their BlackBerry time at home. It’s exactly what I’d do…

DS

Muad'Dib (profile) says:

Overtime

It’s interesting that only one person saw that this is a state regulatory issue, not just some bored HR folks trying to find ways to torment hapless tech-workers. The HR laws are pretty clear, actually, that companies must pay for time worked, unless there is a salaried contract in place. On the other side of this fun, if you’re using the BB for personal use, then, technically, it’s a taxable benefit. It’s never simple, eh?

mobiGeek says:

Re: Overtime

I don’t see that others missed this fact. No one has come out to say what their stance is on this regulation, but most comments are of the “it depends” standpoint.

And it does depend. Regulations don’t answer the questions raised by this thread. For example, if work gives me a BlackBerry that I check outside of work hours but I’ve not been mandated to do it, should I submit that time?

I don’t actually see why there needs to be any regulation around this issue. Either I’m working and the law requires me to be compensated, or I’m not and I’m “voluntarily” checking those emails.

If I take a manual home and read it on my own time, should I be compensated? Answer: it depends.

If I log in to my email from my home PC and check the same emails my coworkers get on the BlackBerries? Answer: it depends.

If I attend a work-relevant convention over the weekend, should I be compensated for my time? Answer: it depends.

I take great joy in my profession. I do work outside of work because I like it, I do it because it takes the pressure off (well, okay, brings it down to a nearly survivable level) when I’m in the office, I do it because it allows me the flexibility to do other things during standard “work hours” (something I rarely take advantage of, but do when I want to).

Me, myself and email says:

Paid

If I got paid for the time I spent off hours monitoring email and critical systems… Well let just say I would have that new M3 already.

But, I can deal. I mean I would rather know what the hell is going on and be able to correct any mission critical issues asap. So I would rather check email for free then walk into an office building that has ground to a halt because the system is down.

monk says:

I like having a blackberry! I am salaried and in sales (commission). I look at my blackberry as a tool that gives me the freedom to be away from my desk, work from home, and take care of small issues when I want to, not when I am at my desk. It takes me less then a minute (normally) to read and reply to an email. I am sure I waste a lot more then that during the day surfing the web and bs-ing with co-workers.

Meoip says:

Charge

As an hourly with a blackberry I charge a flat fee not an hourly fee. I charge $1 per email checked and $3 per an easy typed response and $5 if I have to do anything other than hit respond and type. Since most after hour emails come from salaried employees within my company and they want answers soon. I started this plan and turned things in on an expense report once a week. After a brief discussion the company did pay for the plan and encouraged other employees to not send urgent emails after hour.

ted says:

RE: IMAO

BlackBerries are a tool for Remote Access of data, the internet, and yes- calls. At home, your boss isn’t standing over your easy chair demanding you respond to each email.
But if things go terribly wrong, I would hope you would care enough about your work and company to want to be in the know.
As far as “deserving” anything, I don’t think anyone- companies or their employees- deserve anything less or more than the law, whatever is in the employment contract, and fair treatment. Getting paid to update Facebook statuses is not fair treatment.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am an Hourly Employee and for the past 4 years some of my co-workers have been calling me on my personal cell phone,sometimes 2-3 hours prior to my start time or off shifts. I have never had an agreement of any kind with the company to accept phone calls prior to my start time. I have alway meant to ask my HR department, but did not want to pose the question since I am not sure it this would cause my Supervisor to get in trouble since I always mentioned to her that I received calls at 5am and my scheduled time was 7:30am and she never said anything she made it seem like that was ok, like It was my responsibility. Are there any regulation to employers for hourly employees getting contacted at off- shifts or hours prior to their shift, is there any penalization.

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