According to a recent Pew Research study, 55% of American adults have a smartphone and 63% of cell phone users use their phone to go online. The growth of smartphone usage has made it easier – and more acceptable – for employees to perform job responsibilities before or after the regular working day.
For employers, however, these technological advances can be dangerous. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires non-exempt employees to receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week. If non-exempt employees use their phones to work after-hours, the employer could owe them overtime pay.
A pending case in Illinois federal court, Allen v. City of Chicago, has brought this issue to light. In the lawsuit, a Chicago police officer alleged that he was required to regularly check his employer-issued Blackberry device and respond to e-mails, voice mails, and text messages while off duty but not paid overtime. While it is important to note that a final decision in the case has not been reached, the court has allowed the suit to proceed, finding that Allen made plausible allegations that the City violated the FLSA.
Whether or not Allen is ultimately successful, the case can already teach employers a few lessons:
As much as possible, only provide smartphones to exempt employees who are not subject to overtime pay requirements.
If non-exempt employees need smartphones, establish clear written policies to detail who should be issued a phone and what type of after-hours use is permissible.
Require the non-exempt employee to carefully track any after-hours work, and review the employee’s records for accuracy.
Provide training to managers, supervisors, and employees, to ensure knowledge and compliance.