How can newsrooms stay connected 24/7 without violating federal laws?
Question: What policies or procedures do newsrooms use to allow for common sense, work-related mobile phone usage among non-exempt, hourly newsroom staff? How does a newsroom maintain 24/7 connectivity with the goings-on in the world, while staying within the parameters of the Wage and Hour laws?
Answer: There is already caselaw on the books providing that employees who spend time reading and responding to e-mail and other documents while "off the clock" are entitled to be paid for that time, unless it is clearly de minimis.
The standard under the Federal Wage and Hour Law is "suffer or permit to work." It is a very broad standard. Therefore, if the employer is aware that the employee is spending time checking and responding to e-mail after he or she has gone home, the employer will be expected to compensate those individuals for this time.
However, you also have to have a method to control your budget. It is recommended that you have a clear, written policy stating that overtime – work beyond the regular schedule – must be authorized in advance by supervisors. Here is an example of such a policy.
Some newsrooms have an "on call" schedule practice so that the editor knows which individuals are expected to be ready in case something happens. This would be an example of pre-authorization. Often, the police reporter is specifically authorized to be ready to respond during unusual timeframes. Note that this is with specific authorization. Any time actually worked is to be logged and paid.
At many newspapers, reporters have remote access to the timekeeping system. If they can file stories or update social media electronically, they can maintain their "timecard" electronically as well.
In most newsrooms, unauthorized accrual of overtime working hours would be coached and disciplined. If management is aware that employees are working, then it is "permitting" the employees to work and must pay them.
Note: Nothing in this SNPA Legal Hotline Q&A should be relied upon as legal advice in any particular matter.
L. Michael Zinser is the founding partner of The Zinser Law Firm in Nashville, Tenn. The firm, which has a heavy concentration of clients in communications media, represents management in the area of labor and employment. Zinser can be reached at (615) 244-9700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SNPA's free Legal Hotline for members – (844) 804-2016 – is designed to assist newspapers with a broad range of legal issues. Hotline attorneys and CPAs will tackle questions about circulation, independent contractors, labor and employment law, taxes, finances and accounting, employment benefits, open records, libel and privacy, and other issues newspapers encounter.
The attorneys and CPAs who will take calls from SNPA member newspapers are the best in the business: The Bussian Law Firm PLLC, Fisher & Phillips, Way, Ray, Shelton & Co., P.C. and The Zinser Law Firm.