What is Work?

It's a familiar scene: It's Tuesday night and you've finally settled into your couch to watch television. Your "work" Blackberry vibrates. You check it. It's an email from your boss asking for clarification on something you sent him earlier. Do you respond? As an hourly employee, you're technically not being paid for those five minutes you would spend "working." An article in today's Wall Street Journal considers this new dilemma that is plaguing our communication-obsessed society.

Two lawsuits were filed last month by employees and former employees of T Mobile and CB Ellis who claimed they were made to respond to messages via company-issued cell phones while off the clock. "This is about 'What is work?'" says employment attorney Dan McCoy, a question whose answer is ever-changing during this recession of unpaid furloughs and salary cuts. The economic downturn could prompt more of these wage-and-hour disputes as employers attempt to get the same amount of work done with a skeletal staff, says Greg Rasin, a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP.


WSJ: "The federal Fair Labor Standards Act says employees must be paid for work performed off the clock, even if the work was voluntary. When the law was passed in 1938, 'work' was easy to define for hourly employees, said Mr. McCoy. As the workplace changed, so did the rules for when workers should be paid...

With smart phones, which typically provide Internet access and email as well as voice calling, 'the boundaries become much more permeable' and work is difficult to monitor, said Christina Banks, a senior lecturer at the University of California Berkeley and president of Lamorinda Consulting LLC."

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