There’s some trouble lurking beneath all this remote access technology.
Thanks to advancements in cloud computing and solutions like virtual desktops, it’s increasingly easy for us to “work anywhere.” This level of mobility has serious appeal across industries – attorneys can bill from a cabin in the woods, caregivers can record their visits from their client’s home, and snow days are a thing of the past. Our employees love the flexibility, and our clients love the responsiveness.
When “work anywhere” turns into “work anytime,” however, we begin to run into some sketchy territory as far as labor laws go.
Remote work and labor laws
As you probably know, recent updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) have expanded the definition of “nonexempt” workers to include many more of our employees. Now, if these employees take advantage of their ability to “work anytime” and end up clocking over 40 hours a week, you are required to pay them overtime. That, or they are within their right to sue.
No matter your personal opinion about these changes, the looming threat legal action always has a special way of jolting the business community into action.
How are we supposed to mitigate this risk? Do we actually need to shy away from giving our teams the freedom to access their work from home? Do we need to implement technical controls alongside remote access solutions to “lock out” nonexempt workers once their 8 hours is up? Do we forbid our team from emailing after hours altogether?
You could… but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
How to keep your company in the clear
There are absolutely ways to finagle your technology so that you can control when and how your team is accessing your system. But more often than not, the entire issue of overtime can be addressed most effectively from the policy level instead.
At my company, for example, many of our folks are helpdesk engineers, a role that falls squarely under the definition of “nonexempt.” Any overtime for them must be explicitly approved by their supervisor. This alone has been sufficient for us even with our team having complete access to our systems 24/7.
These sort of policies are especially successful when coupled with a culture that (genuinely) emphasizes the importance of work/life balance. Because keep in mind: it’s not just overtime pay to worry about if your employees are consistently working hours and hours beyond their scheduled times; lawsuits can be expensive, but turnover will cost you more.
All told, I would raise caution against boiling something as tricky as overtime down to an IT issue; while technology is the means through which we can work anytime from anywhere, we’re ultimately talking about a much more human matter here.
As originally published in the American City Business Journals.