Newly Non-Exempt Employees, Smartphone Addiction and Summer Vacation

Jun 22, 2016

My smartphone is set to make a noise every time I get a work-related email.  At any given time, day or night, Saturday, Sunday, Christmas Day, Independence Day or Thanksgiving, on family vacations, in the hospital, or at a dinner party, if a client emails me, I know.  Immediately.  When I was in labor with my second child, my husband had to pry my blackberry out of my hands in the hospital room (I didn’t have any drugs so I wasn’t under the influence).  I used to be incredibly proud of my lighting fast responses to every email received.  But I’ve come to realize there is a price – not only to my health and family life, but also at times to my clients.  Given the changes to the FLSA regulations which will find many previously exempt employees now nonexempt, I am encouraging my clients and challenging myself to take a second look at smartphone usage.

As discussed in my last blog (read it here: https://www.mwblawyers.com/employmentblog/dol-salary-rule-changes-plan/), the DOL has issued regulations that go into effect on December 1, 2016 changing the salary threshold for exemption from overtime requirements.  Managers, professionals and administrators who have previously been exempt from overtime requirements must now make $913/week to be considered exempt.  Many employers in the manufacturing, non-profit, retail, and service industries are now faced with the prospect of either significantly raising salaries or having non-exempt managers and administrators.  Many of these previously exempt managers and administrators likely have smartphones on which they conduct business for the company day and night.

When managers and administrators become nonexempt, the time they spend on their smartphones at odd hours is compensable time.  Every text from an employee who is going to be out, every email checked, every answer to a question from a supervisor at 10:00 p.m. must be recorded and compensated. In my last blog I suggested that companies need to conduct an hours survey of their currently exempt employees who do not make the new salary threshold to determine how to pay those employees under the new regulations.  Companies should be certain that these employees are including their out of the office smartphone time in their hours worked.

Now is also a great time for employers to take a second look at their employees’ smartphone usage for work-related issues.  How many employees have company issued smartphones or are allowed to use their personal smartphones for work purposes?  How much of that usage is actually necessary?  What are the expectations internally and externally for response times to emails and texts sent outside of the workday?  What is really critical and what can wait until the next workday for a response?

In our ever increasing desire to be speedy in our responses, we may be providing less thoughtful answers and keeping ourselves from performing optimally on a regular basis.  Just google the terms “smartphone” and “distraction.”  The number of academic studies that appear all discussing the detrimental effect of our smartphone addiction and distraction on our ability to critically think is astounding.  I was planning to provide some links here, but there are simply too many to cite.

I’ve blogged before about the dangers of email in the workplace (you can read that here: https://www.mwblawyers.com/employmentblog/important-supervisor-training-emails-are-documents-too/).  That danger is only multiplied when we distractedly and quickly respond without taking the time to think through our responses.

So this summer as you are contemplating restructuring jobs or changing compensation strategies in light of the new DOL regulations, I also challenge you to consider the culture around smartphone usage in your workplace just as I am.  No worries, my clients will still be able to get me in an emergency and can still expect a 24 hour turnaround time generally, but I am committing to better time management and less distraction caused by my smartphone.  Although I imagine for at least awhile, my children’s eyes will instinctively roll and my thumbs will twitch when I hear the email “ding.”

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