All Work and No Pay? More Americans Taking Their Work Home

If you have a cell phone, a pager and a laptop so that you can stay in touch with work at all times, you are not alone. Nine out of 10 Americans say they take their work home, according to a new poll. For safety professionals, that number is probably 10 out of 10.

"Technology has created a 24-hour workplace, but there are hazards -legal and otherwise - in creating a 24-hour employee when that employee is not a member of management," says Charles T. Huddleston, chair of Arnall Golden Gregory's Employment Law Practice Group. "The poll sheds some light on why we're seeing a huge number of employee class-action suits over uncompensated time for work performed outside the regular workplace."

As an example, Huddleston pointed to the highly publicized employee class-action suit against Intel over uncompensated time. The suit illustrates how litigation arises out of these disputes, how state legislatures become deeply involved in workplace issues and how organized labor sees one of its biggest organizing opportunities in decades, he said.

Workers fighting Intel have their own Web site (www.faceintel.com), on which they are soliciting members of the plaintiff class, stating in part, "If Intel supplied the equipment (PC, notebook, printer, cell phone, fax machine, etc.) and had authorized you to access their computer system from home - for any work or duty that you performed from home over your daily eight hours, you would be likely entitled to overtime."

The latest "America At Work" public opinion survey, commissioned by the Employment Law Alliance, was released during the annual meeting of the Society for Human Resource Management in Philadelphia. The national poll of 1,000 men and women, focused on "non-exempt" employees - those whose work hours are legally regulated and who are entitled to overtime compensation.

Twenty percent of the workers surveyed said their employer's compensation policies for working outside the office "take advantage" of them. Huddleston warned that while employers might find satisfaction in the fact that 76 percent of the workers sampled did not believe they are being taken advantage of through existing compensation policies, they should not have a false sense of security.

"This is a big issue in the American workplace, for small and large employers alike - especially for employers with work locations in several states," Huddleston said. "Employers who expect their non-exempt employees to be on call around the clock, but to pay them for only the eight hours they work in an office, are opening themselves up to significant legal action."

Results showed the following:

  • Ninety-three percent of those surveyed said they spend some time away from their regular workplace responding to work-related e-mail, voice mail, pagers or some other electronic form of work-related communication.
  • Of those workers, only 20 percent said they received some payment for their work, while 53 percent said they were not paid at all.
  • Nineteen percent said they were not compensated for the extra time worked because they chose not to ask for either overtime or compensatory time.
  • Five percent said while they were not compensated directly, they did receive some benefit for that extra time worked, such as extra time off.
  • Ninety percent said that they spend some time conducting work-related activities other than responding to emails, voice mails or pagers, at home or away from the office. Of those workers, 29 percent said they were paid for their time while 35 percent said they were totally uncompensated. Twenty-seven percent said they did not ask for either compensation or comp time in return for that extra time worked. Nine percent said they were not directly compensated but were given extra time off, or some other benefit for that extra time worked.
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