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UC: Maybe Not For Hourly Workers

Management isn't always willing to pay for what they think should be "goodwill" given on behalf of employees to their employers. Several lawsuits question whether or not employers must compensate salaried workers for time off the job given to answer work related questions.One suit reported by the WSJ is against T-Mobile by employees and some former employees claiming T-Mobile required them to use smart phones to reply to work messages after hours without pay.

Clearly, the lines between work and personal time are blurring and I mentioned this in Do Not Disturb, and that folks are willing to a varying degree to accept work interruptions during personal time. The lawsuits against T-Mobile, Lincare and CB Richard Ellis Group may not be conclusive for all hourly workers, but it's certainly given enough question as to how much can employers expect from their hourly employees while off-duty? Then in considering different workers, is it reasonable for these workers to be responsible while off-duty and I'm immediately thinking of health care, first responders, education and other workers in public service. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 states employees must be paid for work performed during off hours even if the work was voluntary.

Of course during down economies most everyone keeps their mouth shut and sucks it in when it comes to keeping their jobs. But it becomes just like union bargaining when things improve and management is remembered for breaking contracts on former terms--it's payback time. In education where eroding tax coffers mean less for everyone including teachers, you do hear about bankruptcy facing mismanaged school systems but you don't hear about collaboration. UC could soften sides and open tools to benefit students, parents and staff supporting them. Technology rightly applied to the classrooms remains evasive for public schools. Some schools systems try to run the system like a business and this is where breakdowns occur. Then administrators expect teachers to respond to parents during off-duty hours within so many hours of a parent calling. The love-hate relationships exist that hampers the system and eventually affects the quality of education for the student when teachers "work to the rule."

IT/ITC folks are going to be challenged on other fronts. Which workers qualify for UC tools and which workers don't or which workers does management want to pay to use UC technology during off duty hours? The lawsuits could drag on and even if they don't, new rules may come about but the rules may be just like the FLSA, full of twists and turns and apply or not apply to certain groups, employee types or individual cases.

My 83-year old uncle owned a community auto parts store and faced off-hours interruptions all the years he was in business. He would head to the store and open up for a customer with some emergency or critical need. No overtime, no special fees or charges, he just provided service to the community he grew up in and loved. There are still folks that are just like my uncle. Of course there are plenty of other examples and some not so exemplary or complimentary. The technology once again seems headed for some snags with outdated legislation and convoluted with special rules and exceptions that inevitably will require a team of lawyers to figure it out if they can stop fighting among themselves. The old days and old methods of asking, "What's reasonable?" seem unreasonable in today's world. Goodwill may need an extension and UC stands to suffer some setbacks.