Is it legal for an employer to require hourly employees to participate in text message threads and groups on their personal phones?

My wife works an hourly retail job as a supervisor for a major retailer. Recently 1-2 years a new GM for the store required all supervisors to participate in a text message group to relay information to each other. The business has a robust in office communication system which includes private in-boxes and an email system as well as team inboxes. However, from what I understand, much of this system has been abandoned in favor of a simplified system using the employees’ personal cell phones to pass important business messages. First, this system does not account for when the employees are on the clock, meaning that it creates a scenario of mandatory free labor. Second, the company does not own or pay for service on these phones, so should they have any jurisdiction to how they are used?

Asked on April 2, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Ohio

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

First of all, non-exempt (typically hourly) employees must be paid for all time worked, including work duties that are performed when they are otherwise "off the clock". To the extent that this time puts them over 40 hours in their work week, then such time should be paid as OT. Secondly, unless there exists an employment contract or union agreement to the contrary, an employer can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit (absent some form of legally actionable discrimination). This includes having workers use their personal cell phones (or any other equipment) in the performance of their work duties and to do so without reimbursement.


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