Recently, a police officer sued the City of Chicago on behalf of himself and others, seeking pay for time spent dealing with work-related phone calls, voice mails, emails, text messages and work orders via BlackBerry devices and similar "personal digital assistants." The officer contends that these activities entitle the group to an award of overtime compensation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The idea of checking on work activities outside of work hours is neither a new phenomenon nor surprising. But the extreme proliferation of electronic communication devices into every part of our lives creates a new wrinkle and key issues that employers must address when it comes to smart phone use outside the workplace. The law (created 70 years ago) doesn't always relate to current real-life situations.
This issue won't be going away any time soon. Although there have been countless wage-and-hour claims on a variety of topics, there is no widely accepted legal definition about compensating for time spent on work projects after hours strictly using electronic communication. The fact is, even without a statute in place, employers need to begin looking at policies regulating and defining electronic communication use outside of work hours and what work constitutes "overtime."