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Overtime for Checking Email? Under Obama’s Expanded Overtime Rule, Maybe


Recently, President Obama announced new rules for overtime pay, which will raise the floor to just over $50,000 and cover nearly 5 million American workers. While you may have heard about the rule change, you might not be aware how that could affect your technology usage, particularly checking emails after hours.

Overtime Pay for Checking Emails

(Photo Credit: JESHOOTS/pixabay)

What does it all mean?

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If you’ve been on salary, and making more than $23,660, you’ve not been eligible to receive overtime pay – until now. If you’re curious to learn specifics as to what that will mean, we already have an example to draw from: California.

Overtime rules (similar to the ones that Obama announced) were adopted by California more than a decade ago, according to NPR. With new concern about keeping overtime costs down, many employers cracked down on after-hours email usage. Even the act of reading an email is “work” in California, according to HR rep Brenda Rushforth. Therefore, it’s eligible for overtime pay.

So, with these new rules, you could now be eligible for overtime pay when you check emails, if you still fall beneath that $50,440 threshold. Legal precedent over the last few years (including the case filled by Sgt. Jeffrey Allen in 2010) has already supported the claims of non-exempt workers who were not compensated for checking their email in their “off” hours. 

While this change won’t fully take effect until 2016, and could still potentially be undone by legislative wrangling, I encourage you to perform a little test if you’re at all skeptical about the monumental importance of this one change to our lives.

Track It

Keep a tally sheet (or use a quick digital timekeeper) of how many hours you spend each day checking emails, apart from any other work-related activities that you may be required, or feel compelled, to perform at home or outside of a regular 40-hour schedule. You may be surprised, or even shocked, by the sheer amount of time you spend on email.

Ask, “Is It Productive?”

Once you’ve determined how many hours you spend, the next step is to take a look at what you’ve actually accomplished in all those hours. Could the time you spent reading emails at midnight have been deferred until the next morning, particularly since you were half-asleep (and, thus, needed to re-read the emails again in the morning)?

Evaluate Your Work-Life Balance

American workers are already immersed in technology. In his interview with NPR, Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at the Pew Research Center, says that two-thirds of Americans have smartphones. And, an ever-increasing number of jobs require regular monitoring of email. While we all understand the importance of keeping on top of communication, if these new rules are able to bring even one iota more breathing room to American workers, it could contribute to a healthier and happier work-and-life balance for everyone. 

Tell Us What You Think

Are you currently required to check emails during “off” hours, as part of your salaried position? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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Most executive positions now take it for granted that one is expected to remain connected to work, not just after work hours, but even when on vacation. While this rule may seem to push towards more work-life balance in a world that is increasingly obsessed with productivity, the opposite argument could also be made: could time spent at work checking Facebook or personal email (assuming access is not barred by the employer) be considered as time off from work, and… Read more »


Emails should have never been permitted to interfere with personal time off. If this kind of communication would have proved productive, people would have been receiving phone calls at all hours of the night. Most things can wait until the next work day begins if people would just remain efficient during the tradtional eight hour work day, 5 days a week. All the latest technology designed to save us time is acutually consuming more of our time and attention !


That’s why I won’t link my work email to my iPhone. I don’t need that kind of intrusion in my life (it’s it’s my personal phone.) People need to put their foot down.

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