Will New Overtime Laws Mean Fewer Work Emails at Home?

As reported by NPR, the Obama administration has proposed new rules that would increase the number of people eligible to receive overtime pay.

The new rules may take effect by the beginning of 2016.

White Collar vs. Blue Collar

Woman working overtimeThe Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in the 1930s, was intended to address concerns about exploiting blue-collar workers by making them work more than 40 hours per week without overtime pay. The Act thus distinguished between blue-collar and white-collar workers.

“Hourly” blue-collar workers are entitled to overtime, whereas “exempt” white-collar workers are not.

This is based on the assumption that white-collar workers are “managers” and receive a “high enough” salary even without overtime.

The salary level that currently divides blue-collar from white-collar workers is $23,660 per year. In most cases, people who make more than that are ineligible for overtime pay.

More Jobs?

The White House is proposing raising that limit to $50,440.

That would lead to many workers – especially low-level managers in restaurants and stores – either getting a raise or becoming eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.

The change is expected to affect about five million workers.

In theory, this could also mean more jobs, as employers find it more economical to hire more people to work extra time at the regular hourly rates rather than paying current managers time-and-a-half. Part-time workers could see their hours increased, perhaps to full-time.

Taking Work Home

Mom working at homeAs smart-phones have become ubiquitous – two-thirds of American adults now have them -- many salaried employees are expected to be “available” during their so-called “off” hours. This is especially an issue when businesses have operations in several time zones or even on different continents.

With the new rules, hourly workers could charge overtime for work they do at home – including checking and responding to emails. (Smartphones also make it easy to punch a virtual time-clock and track such time.)

As NPR reported, California raised the threshold for exempt employees 10 years ago. Some employers then adopted rules to limit their exposure to paying overtime for work done outside the office.

Pomona College, for example, told employees not to download email to their personal devices and not to be on email after normal work hours.

Some companies may even shut down email servers to prevent employees from sending or checking for new messages.

Inbox Curfews

As reported in Fast Company, some companies are imposing email blackouts or curfews.

For example, Vynamic, a Philadelphia consulting companies, asks employees not to send emails between 10 pm and six am on weekdays, or all day on weekends. The company calls this “zmail” and it adopted this policy not to save money on overtime but to reduce the stress employees felt from constantly having to check and respond to emails at all hours.

The company doesn’t prohibit people from working at off-hours, but employees are encouraged to save emails as drafts and then send them during working hours – rather than inflict them on the recipients immediately.

If you have questions…

If you have questions about labor or employment law, you may wish to consult an attorney in your area.

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