Landmark Law Says Workers Checking E-Mail After Hours to Get Overtime Pay

In a move that could inspire other jurisdictions, according to BrazilPortal, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has signed legislation that stipulates that worker’s who respond (or even just check) emails sent from their place of employment during off hours are entitled to overtime pay. This comes after legislators wrangled with the issue, deciding in the end that when a boss sends an employee an email asking for work to be done, it’s the same as doing so while that employee is at the office, and thus should come along with compensation.

News of the new law has already had an impact in other countries. In Australia, for example, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, workers have begun complaining that they too should be paid for such work. This comes, the newspaper reports, on the heels of other events that likely contributed to the decision in Brazil. A worker in Chicago, for example, filed a class action lawsuit against his employer claiming that they refused to pay overtime for responses made to email during off hours. The paper also notes that Volkswagen recently made headlines by announcing that it would stop sending employees any email after hours. And French company Atos announced that it plans to phase out corporate email altogether.

As all of these examples point out, there is a rising censuses among workers of the world that corporations have been using a loop-hole to get more out of employees without having to pay them for their efforts. It’s also likely to bring to the forefront issues related to email messaging that occurs when employees are on vacation, which sometimes leads to dial-in meetings. Such issues are likely to be much more difficult to iron out however as most such employees are salaried, rather than hourly, which means, employers can claim that such work is simply part of their job, for which they are compensated as part of their normal salary. Making such claims even more difficult is the fact that very few white collar workers are unionized, which makes banding together to air grievances all the more difficult. When combined with a general fear of losing a job due to a tough economy, most will be more apt to keep silent and just accept it as part of their job.

Because Brazil has taken the step of forcing companies to pay overtime for email, it’s likely that this issue is one that will only grow louder, as more and more employees decide that being forced to read and respond to email during off hours, truly is work, and they ought to get paid for that, or not be sent such messages in the first place.

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