Does Checking Your Email On Your BlackBerry Count As Overtime?

from the according-to-some... dept

We’ve had plenty of stories over the years about how the whole barriers between “work” and “life” continue to blur, and that’s causing problems in some areas. Two years ago, we noted that some employees were upset to have to sign documents making it clear that checking email on Blackberries would not count towards overtime work. Last year, we questioned if paying employees hourly wages still made sense in many cases because of situations like this. The issue has come up again, as a Chicago police officer is suing for overtime for use of his Blackberry during off-hours. Obviously, there are some jobs where paying hourly could make sense, but if it’s a job that’s going to require a Blackberry and regularly checking in, it seems like it shouldn’t be paid hourly, but as an exempt employee that gets paid a straight salary.

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Comments on “Does Checking Your Email On Your BlackBerry Count As Overtime?”

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Spuds (profile) says:

Re: Re: "in this economy..."

That is a fine point. In fact, where I work, it has gotten to the point that supervisors remind you that in this economy, there are a lot of people looking for jobs. They remind you that it may behoove you to straighten up and fly right. They remind you that you should do what they ask– on or off the clock.

It is interesting to me because once the economy gets back on track, I think the company I work for is going to be a ghost town.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“switch off the Blackberry when you finish with work”

Spoken like someone who has the luxury of being “off the clock” when they finish work. It work in I.T. and am often required for emergency situations. The guy who’s meant to be on call that night is unavailable? I’ll get it in the ass if I don’t at least pick up my phone.

If you’d ever been in a situation where a boss emails you with vital or emergency data and expects you to deal with it even if you’re not technically on call, you’d understand. It’s not right of course, but many bosses expect it anyway – and your raise/promotion/job may depend on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m in IT also, and I simply work 7 hour days, with the assumption that I will catch up by answering a few e-mails outside of work hours, and almost always have weekend projects going on once a month.

I more than make up for it since I’m fairly responsive offhours and I do my best to keep downtime to near nil.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I work in another field and I’m an hourly employee (highly skilled and all of that stuff but still hourly). I, too, am often expected to respond to emergency situations.

What I see on the NPR report isn’t a guy who was just checking his crackberry rather than responding to an emergency that required his presence by phone or in person. At least the story itself doesn’t indicate a pattern of emergency responses.

My way of dealing with it is to tell my boss (and I’ve had more than my share of ignorant boneheads since beloved employer decided that my boss doesn’t need to actually know what I do to be my boss) that it damned well better be an emergency and what the definition of that is. (No, it’s not the phone in the janitors closest doesn’t work or one out of a hundred phones don’t work.) It’s defined in my business as a threat to public health and safety first then as a threat to personal health and safety second. It’s a catch all that works for the most part. (Police, Fire, Ambulance, Hospital, Ferry and ATC, STC are automatic.)

I’ve yet to respond to a real emergency that is actually fixable (there’s been a couple that haven’t been fixable) and get things going again. Including helping out IT guys when communications fail. (Telecom is all computers these days anyway.)

At the same time I recognize my own limitations in terms of how long I can work efficiently and productively on a problem and when it becomes pointless to continue because I’m either not going to solve it or I’m just gonna make things worse. Or, worse, damage the customer’s business or injure myself both distinct possibilities the more tired I become.

As for changing me from wages to salaried or exempt, forget it. One of the few real hold backs to my being abused when I’m off work is that both the customer and beloved employer know it’s gonna cost them to call me out off hours so they make sure they’re sure.

For projects I’ll do a shift change should I have to work nights for a night or two because that is what I’ve found what works best for me and, by extension, everyone else. That it’s less expensive for the company and customer is a nice secondary effect. 🙂

Overtime is, no matter, what, routinely abused, people are expected to work it to respond to crackberries, emergencies that aren’t emergencies and other issues at any hour of the day or night.

Then I keep remembering the old saying “no one ever died wishing they’d spent too little time in the office” as well as the fact that people who get overstressed live shorter, more miserable lives and thank fate, God and anyone else that I can, and do, manage my own workload.

Oh, as far as I know, I’ve yet to lose my employer a customer. Gained them a few. Never lost one yet.

TC says:

Re: Re:

Easy to say “switch off, don’t respond”

However, the reality is that many bosses expect an answer and expect you to be reachable.

It usually starts with an occasional quickie. An emailed question that’s usually hinted at being urgent but only requires two seconds to reply to. Eventually it evolves into almost daily evening emails that require research or some sort of action….and of course, since you aren’t paid overtime at the start, you won’t get any unless you fuss.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Thank You for your support.

Most times these sort of claims come from sheer frustration by the employee at what they consider a massive abuse of “the rules”, such as they are, by the employer. It’s called “you want this, pay me!” and it’s the final frustrated shot at the boss for massive abuse of the system.

Somehow, I don’t see a cop doing this on a whim. Actually, I don’t see anyone doing this on a whim.

out_of_the_blue says:

If it's *required* by the job, then pay *more*.

Definition of required includes that this is recent development — we somehow got along without email back there — but if employer requires it of an hourly employee, then absolutely, it’s *work*. It’s highly annoying to interrupt leisure hours and check in, even if only a minute is technically needed, still requires your time, and arranging your life around that.

I note, Mike, that you yet again are wishing for “unlimited” at a fixed price. Converting hourly workers to salary is a *trap* employers set whenever they can, to reduce their costs. Employers should either *pay* extra or arrange the job differently, not shift costs onto employees.

@ AC: ‘It’s easy to say, but there are a lot of arguments that probably begin with “in this economy” and end with “so I can’t take a stand against my boss”.’ — That’s not an argument, that’s an ultimatum. It’s to advantage of The Rich to have people dependent on jobs, and easily replaced if won’t knuckle under. — Fight back: go slow, don’t do the little extras, add a minute to every break. Don’t get into the trap of being a passive economic unit used for someone else’s profit; that’s ultimately riskier than losing any one job because every other employer will put the screws to you too.

Kingster (profile) says:

Re: Re: If it's *required* by the job, then pay *more*.

Well… I think that out_of was commenting about a comment made by AC to Stella’s comment. AC’s comment was employer indeterminate, and so out_of gets to call employers “The Rich”. Why? Because rich doesn’t have to be about money… It can be used as a descriptor of any resource… Minerals, cows, manure, and, yes, jobs. If I were an employer, I can decide who gets a job and who doesn’t (within some guidelines, obviously), and so I am “rich” with employment opportunities. Savvy?

bwp (profile) says:

‘Obviously, there are some jobs where paying hourly could make sense, but if it’s a job that’s going to require a Blackberry and regularly checking in, it seems like it shouldn’t be paid hourly, but as an exempt employee that gets paid a straight salary.’

It’s not that simple Mike. You have to follow the FLSA standards for exempt or non-exempt jobs.

Matthew says:

Re: Re:

^- This. In fact, some companies go through a lot of contortions to qualify some roles as “exempt” when the nature of the work really suggests that they should be “non-exempt.” It lets them demand extra effort from employees whenever necessary under the guise of “reasonable overtime.” And the more employees give in to the demand, the more pressure can be put on reticent employees to be a team player.

Danny says:

I would like to say that if the company expects you to be available by smart phone then you should definitely be getting paid for that time but as others have said companies have no qualms about bending reality to pressure employees into going the extra mile for free (and with the way the job market is these days companies have the advantage of, “Oh you want compansation for this? Fine we’ll just hire someone who will do it without compensation.”).

Jimr (profile) says:

On Call

If I am required to check it then it I consider myself on call and demand to be compensated.
If I check my work email because I feel like then why should my employee compensate me for something that I am not required to do.
I did carry a work mobile phone and did answer it 24-7 and billed every time I answered it. The clients and employer knew that if they called me I would bill them. If I did it for free I would never be able to sleep as they would all expect free work.

Anonymous Coward says:

I had a job with a work issued blackberry and the expectations was a 2 hour response for emails. So that means you have to set an audible alert and check you mobile often. Get this…I worked night shift. Day shift felt free to email/page me throughout the day. I left that job a nervous wreck…and cannot look at a black berry without wanting to throw up. I believe the time I spent away from the factory was more stressful and should have been overtime…but I was exempt, of course. Now figure you have a cop who is getting emails throughout every day about every other case from the DA, the courts, etc. He may have a point depending on how much they took advantage of him.

Joseph Durnal (user link) says:

It depends

I’ve actually helped companies write policies around this. They key is for the employer to have specific policies related to the use of mobile devices, including what counts as work. A good example, a policy can state that only messages marked with high importance or from your supervisor or manager are required to be addressed via blackberry during non-working hours, nothing that the blackberry can be configured with different types of alert levels for different types of e-mail. We can also write rules in the mail system to cc a supervisor if not already on any e-mail not from the supervisor marked with high importance. The key is to be sure the policies are clear in what is expected of the staff. Even exempt employees are generally required to put in X number of hours, usually 40 in a week, and sometimes get “comp” time, etc for extra hours worked. Of course, that won’t stop the rouge supervisor from telling their staff that they must go above and beyond corporate policy, but that is a different management problem (we could solve that with technology too, by applying corporate policy to only allow approved messages to be sent to the mobile devices during non-working hours, but that is a can of worms).

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unionized

As well they should. Usually the reason the employer is trying to move people from hourly to salary has nothing to do with a change in duties but everything to do with actually reducing the take home of the employee while increasing the hours of work.

A union’s only job, by law, is to represent and bargain for their membership. If they routinely agreed to such things I can guarantee you they’d be out of business very soon.

There are legitimate and varied reasons for the change and unions, and their membership, mostly agree to an employers request for those changes. The only thing, however, the public ever hears about are those rare times when they don’t.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Unionized

Let me see now, overtime, how do I love thee?

Exhaustion when it’s constant and lengthy, meal allowances that just might pay for McDonalds if I’m lucky, the government gets more than half my damned overtime pay before I see it, I slip up a tax bracket so the income tax goes up, I get cranky and don’t think or execute at all well and the odds of seriously injuring myself goes up exponentially after 12 hours of constant work. (Even in an office environment, by the way.) Not to mention damaging my real life relationships like my partner, friends and so on.

Oh yeah, this union member and rep just loves overtime, endless overtime and the more the better. Sure I do. And the union itself gets less than a penny an hour more in dues for it so it just adores it too not to mention the extra book keeping.

In a pig’s eye I love overtime. It’s necessary sometimes and I’ll gladly do it, it’s part of the job.

In the meantime, how about getting a life? A real one. Not some idiot fantasy about unions and their members.

MissingFrame says:

This is new? What about pagers?

I remember a lot of people carrying around work-related pagers, or getting phone calls off-hours. This was the requirement of some jobs and why I rarely accepted employment from such places. Some people worked out deals with their employer about when they would or wouldn’t have to carry the pager.

However, one place I did work had a policy of minimum 2 hours charged time if they paged you. Needless to say they handed out pagers quite sparingly.

butch says:

I am in IT too and though I have no blackberry, I am expected to answer my home or cell phone, using my minutes, 24/7.

In addition to that time, we are required to attend 7:00am meetings in order to accommodate our fellow associates overseas to whom we sent most of our IT jobs. All this added together makes for a long work day. And of course, there is no overtime pay.

IT Droid says:

First of all, companies have to issue you communications devices (blackberry, pagers, etc) separate from your private one. They pay for them, they can use them how they want.
Seconde, salaried is BS. Is Corporate-speak for “we work you to the bone, and don’t pay you”
Do your research, most courts now-adays don’t allow for IT to be exempted from Overtime.

Third.NEVER EVER FORGET that a CEO can fire you, but an IT can hack onto the CEO’s credit score, mess it up, sent his mortgage to hell, and put all the companies finances on facebook, and password lock all the servers. Even though IT IS THE COMPANY, the IT Department still gets treated like a red-haired stepchild. Take the place you deserve.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

First of all, companies have to issue you communications devices (blackberry, pagers, etc) separate from your private one.

Well, they don’t HAVE to. They can tell you to use your personal one, and you can say yea or nay. And if you say nay they can of course fire you.

Seconde, salaried is BS. Is Corporate-speak for “we work you to the bone, and don’t pay you”

There are still companies that treat their (salaried) employees decently.

NEVER EVER FORGET that a CEO can fire you, but an IT can hack onto the CEO’s credit score, mess it up, sent his mortgage to hell, and put all the companies finances on facebook, and password lock all the servers.

What the hell? Are you actually condoning that type of behavior?

Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Pretty simple folks: No pay = no work

Employment is a simple trade of time for money. Anytime the employer wants the employee to do something then the employee should rightfully be paid an amount previously agreed upon at the time of employment.

If you’re hourly and “required” to do anything outside the office after your regular shift, then the standing agreement, signed by both parties at the time of employment, is an exchange of X amount of dollars per hour.

If you’re a salaried employee and you know of the after hours expectations upon employment, then it is your right to negotiate a salary that you feel comfortable with knowing the expectations you will need to live up to. If the work overrides the salary – renegotiate (ask for more money) or go elsewhere for your employment.

Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pretty simple folks: No pay = no work

I can personally attest to that as well, but there is a point (mine is easier to get to than most I think) where you just say:

“I can’t do this anymore. I work to LIVE, not live to WORK. The trade off of my time for your pay is grossly unbalanced and for my own sanity and dignity I must change jobs.”


“It’s not my life, it’s not my wife, it’s just a job and I CAN get another one just like I got this one.”

The problem is uncertainty scares the hell out of many people and there is no way those words would ever come out of their mouth to their employer because of that fear.

I say “Face your fears and dare to be happy! Hopefully, at least happier!”

Yo says:


The decision is yours to keep a job or not. Despite the economy, it is still your choice (or theirs of course). It is lame and greedy to go to court for something you obviously agreed to do by doing it, whether you hated it or regreted it or not, or wish you didn’t have to in order to keep your job or not. Officer or not, dumb.

Calm down, calm down. Just because I don’t agree with this particular action, (at least based on how I understood the situation), doesn’t mean I don’t respect officers as a person/job choice.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Eh...

Thing is we have limited information on why this has happened though, on the surface, I agree with you. It does look like he was stockpiling his 10 or 15 minutes a day till he had enough to sue on.

If he’s represented by a union, and there’s a good possibility he is, he’s either bypassed them because they told him there was less than a snowball’s chance in hell of a grievance being successful in this (far less as I read it) or they took it up and it failed so they’ve done their duty by him. The presence of a private lawyer is the hint there as is the issue he’s fighting on.

Satan will have a fully equipped hockey rink and be playing for the Black Hawks in hell before this guy wins this thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I slip up a tax bracket so the income tax goes up”

This is a myth! The tax bracket system is based on a graduated tax system, the first bracket (for sake of argument) is $20,000 You get taxed on that 20k at a rate of 0! (it all comes back at income tax time) Now if you make $20,001 that single dollar will be taxed at the new rate (lets say 10%).

So in this simple example, you earned $20,001 and paid a total of 10 cents tax at income tax time.

You could have a point if you were earning close to the alternative minimum income tax level (~45,000 single, ~75,000 joint for 2009) and not have a good accountant informing you of how to do your taxes right, H&R block does not count, get a real CPA to tell you tax benifits and issues.

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