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Lead Buzz 10/05

Busted for off-the-clock work, the cost of employees who smoke, and more

The Department of Labor is going after off-the-clock work. In one high-profile case last winter, Cingular Wireless was ordered to pay $5.1 million in overtime and back wages to more than 25,000 call-center employees who worked past their scheduled shifts.

In the wireless workplace, the on-the-clock/off-the-clock line has blurred, but federal rules remain the same. Non-exempt employees in all companies must be paid for all the time they work, even if it happens before they sign in or after they sign out. "If they're working, the employer has to pay them," says Jonathan Segal, who works on wage and hour issues as an employment partner with the WolfBlock law firm in Philadelphia.

To avoid scrutiny, set rules early on. Have nonexempt employees record all time worked, and allot a small window--say, an hour a week--for tasks that might have to be done off the clock. If an employee documents more off-the-clock hours, "The employer should say, 'I'll pay you this time because you were working, but you went outside the parameters,'" Segal says. "You need to pay it; the question is what the message is after that." With liability in some cases reaching $50 million, employers should get the message across loud and clear.

Nearly 40%

of all workers in the U.S. are now connected to work via mobile phone.
Statistic Source: Yankee Group

$92 billion

The cost of lost productivity between 1997 and 2001 attributed to early deaths caused by smoking
Statistic Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lead Buzz 10/05.

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