Technology

Rebel Against the (Cell Phone-Dominated) Paradigm: Employees Sue Over Being Tethered to Cell Phones

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Today, the New York Post covers a bunch of people who are doing that thing everyone does when they feel slighted by society and suing! Suing who? Suing their bosses! Suing their bosses for what? For making them be on their cell phones all the time!

Workers are fighting back, with a rash of lawsuits demanding overtime pay for the long hours spent wearing out their thumbs on work-issued devices. Among them is a group of New York-based T-Mobile sales associates and supervisors, who sued last summer seeking back wages for off-the-clock hours spent responding to work missives on company-issued smartphones. Two similar suits have been filed by AT&T employees in the past couple years.

And the issue’s not limited to mobile-technology workers. Last year, a maintenance worker for the real estate firm CB Richard Ellis sued for back overtime, complaining that he was required to carry a BlackBerry and respond promptly to messages at all hours. A few months later, disgruntled account managers hit UPS with a class action suit, citing aggravations including the off-hours messaging that inevitably followed long days on the job.

Unfortunately, you can’t sue your friends for being like WHY DIDN’T YOU PICK UP YOUR PHONE WHEN I CALLED YOU? even though the reason you didn’t pick up your phone (which they know) assuming you couldn’t actually pick up the phone anyway because of some other mitigating circumstance (which they don’t actually know, which is why these people should be summarily executed) is because you just DIDN’T WANT TO TALK TO THEM. But you can’t say that, or else you’re rude, or even worse, you might open up doors to the truth about your relationship with that person, which is basically one of quiet discontent and squelched hatred. And it’s not like you can get rid of your cell phone because you will be an Outcast of Society or something.

But anyway, these people are suing because they supposedly need to be answering their phones all day:

“When I finally come home, I have to keep responding to work e-mails,” complained plaintiff Laura Meza, who said the demand kept up “even on weekends, vacations and sick days.” Some employment lawyers predict a wave of similar suits. That’s because employers are handing out increasingly affordable technology to workers paid by the hour, who are protected by overtime laws. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees paid by the hour must be compensated for any work that exceeds the 40-hour mark — whether it’s performed at the office or a son’s Little League game.

Okay, so, yes: Employees shouldn’t have to work more than 40 hours a week if they’re paid by the hour without being compensated for overtime. But am I an asshole for saying that there are many jobs where you will never move forward unless you attach that thing to your face and be Quickdraw McDog when it comes to answering emails? Probably, but that’s how life works. Sorry. It’s true. But yeah, employees should be allowed to not have to answer emails if they’re not being paid to do so, allowed to get a job that makes them hate their lives where they’re also not being paid extra for answering emails (but maybe paid more?) or allowed to move to a coconut island or Spain or somewhere you don’t have to do anything for most of the day, which really, wouldn’t be so bad. Rights! We have them. NOW WHY AREN’T YOU PICKING UP YOUR PHONE? Etc.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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