Small Business Mythbusters: Working Off-the-Clock

Working Off the Clock

Myth: I do not have to pay employees who access work email on their mobile device after they have clocked out for the day.

We live in a hyper-connected world where employees are reachable essentially all the time. It isn’t unusual for staffers to write emails over the weekend, check phone messages late at night or send work-related texts while on vacation. But are business owners required to pay employees who perform work duties using their mobile devices while off-the-clock?

Nonexempt Employees

The answer to this particular compensation question is—it depends. Companies are obligated to pay “nonexempt” employees for any time spent working. This includes accessing or responding to work-related materials outside of standard business hours, such as simply checking an email or phone message, even if they don’t respond. These rules fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as various state laws. The rules apply even if employees are using their own mobile devices. Additionally, if an employee incurs any kind of expense while using their personal device for a work-related task, they may be entitled to reimbursement.


Consider having your employees use an online timekeeping system to record all time worked. Your employees can then officially record the time they are working by logging in and out. If this isn’t possible, you can provide employees with hard copies of timesheets on which they can record all work done during these off hours. You should let employees know that they are required to maintain these records.

Playing by the Rules

Some businesses have policies that strictly forbid a nonexempt employee from working outside of business hours. A company is allowed to set these rules (company policies included in an employee handbook are a good way to help make sure your employees understand them). That said, if a nonexempt employee defies the policy, he or she is still entitled to compensation for all work performed. The business can, however, discipline an employee for abusing the rules.

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