What exactly counts as work?
Business travel, sleeping in the workplace and after-hours work
Feb 26, 2013
By Brian Kreissl
I didn’t have the car yesterday, but my wife picked me up — albeit a little early, because otherwise I would have a two hour commute on the bus. Therefore, I typed this blog post on my BlackBerry while sitting in the car, at least partially because my work day wasn’t officially over yet.
While I'm a salaried manager and don’t get paid on an hourly basis, I still need to put in a full day's work and make up lost time spent away from the office (although I seldom work the bare minimum workweek anyway). Aside from concerns about unpaid overtime — which may or may not apply — it’s important for everyone to put in an honest workday.
But what type of “work” should count towards that workday? And when and where must that work be performed?
In many ways, the answers to those questions depend on common sense and the applicable legislation. For example, an activity might be considered to be performed in the course of employment for the purposes of workers’ compensation benefits, but not in calculating work hours or overtime under employment standards legislation.
I have often thought about out of town business trips and what is really considered “working” when you’re away from the office. Let’s face it, when you have to travel to another city on business, you are required to be away from your family, sleep in a strange bed and be disrupted from your activities and normal routine.
But you also get to travel and are generally provided with free meals and sleep in a nice hotel. And sometimes you end up working a short workday or not at all simply because you’re spending time on a plane, which may not be conducive to completing any real work.
I personally enjoy travel for business. In the past few years, I’ve been to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Saint John, N.B. — four places I’d never been before. But I can understand how someone who travels regularly for work might begin to resent it.
One interesting story relating to business travel was the Australian woman who received workers' compensation benefits because she injured herself having sex in a hotel room while on a business trip.
On one hand, the result seems absurd because obviously the employee wasn’t “working” when she got injured. However, you could also argue if she wasn't there because of work, she wouldn’t have been in that position (pardon the pun) and wouldn’t have been injured in the first place.
Employment standards legislation
Someone I know works in a group home. She mainly works nights, although she is allowed to sleep part of her shift. Nevertheless, because she’s required to be there while she sleeps and has to be there in case her clients need her, she is paid minimum wage for the time she's supposed to be sleeping and her regular rate when she’s awake.
That seems fair to me and in accordance with the governing employment standards legislation. But what about someone who’s on a business trip? Couldn’t they argue the same? I suppose the difference there is employees generally aren’t required to sleep with “one eye open” in a hotel room while away on business.
Work-life balance concerns
Work-life balance is becoming increasingly important to us as a society, largely because of technology and increased workloads due to a lack of resources amid ongoing concerns about the poor economy. And because our work and home lives are so deeply intertwined, it’s difficult to determine when the workday ends — if it ever truly does.
Because of that, employers need to consider the impact of employees — especially non-management types — who work beyond regular hours or outside the workplace. While I believe strongly in flexible hours and allowing employees to work remotely when appropriate, it does become more difficult to monitor exactly how many hours employees are putting in and what work gets done.
Unpaid overtime litigation is also a real concern. There have even been class action lawsuits in the United States relating to employees who were expected to have their smartphones on and answer e-mails after hours.
While there’s probably nothing wrong with answering the occasional urgent work-related e-mail after hours, it becomes a problem when employees are required to be “on” at all times. At that point, I believe such work should “count” towards an employee’s workday.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.
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