Q. Severalhave smartphones. Do we have to pay them for the time they check work e-mail at home?
A. Under federal wage-and-hour law, employees must be paid for all hours worked. Whether checking e-mail at home is considered hours worked will depend on how much time employees spend, how often it happens and whether reviewing and responding to e-mail after hours is a part of the employees’ principal work duties.
A California federal court recently looked at a similar issue and considered whether an employee’s activities before and after work constituted hours worked.
Before work, the employee—an on-site installer—checked a hand-held computer for his daily assignments and mapped his route. After work, the employee downloaded data to the company’s system—normally a brief task that could nonetheless sometimes take as long as 15 minutes.
The court found that the prework activities were not “principal activities” and therefore not work time under federal law. Even if they were, the time was de minimis—meaning minimal and practically difficult to track.
The after-work activities were different. The court found that downloading data was an “integral and indispensable part” of the employee’s job and, therefore, must be compensated unless it was merely de minimis. The court did not decide whether the activity was de minimis but asked for more evidence regarding the time spent on downloading.
Ultimately, each situation is different. Analyze your cases, based on the employees’ duties and the individual facts. Evaluating the duties, including what’s actually and implicitly required, as well as company policies, will help determine whether additional time should be compensated.
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