We all get unwanted texts.
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As more and more employers are finding that insightful, intentional and informative texts actually enhance engagement with and are desired by their employees, there’s a fine line between the wanted and unwanted texts when it comes to off-the-clock communications. And there are some important legal issues to consider when thinking about using texts to communicate with your team after hours.
We often hear, “Do I need to pay my employees for reading texts during non-working hours?”
Here are a few things your organization should consider.
Reimbursement for phone usage
Federal and state labor codes can regulate payments to employees who use their own cell phones for work purposes, and many states require employers to reimburse their employees for their personal phone usage.
Your organization can avoid many reimbursement issues by making it clear to employees that they have the option to receive work communications on their cell phones. Consider including opt-out language in the footer of each text that reminds your employees that receiving your communications is optional and they can reply to opt out. (For what it’s worth, our customers have found that their employees overwhelmingly enjoy text communications: The opt-out rate across all our customers is .02%.)
An important note: When you have something you are requiring your employees to read, you’ll want to deliver that same messaging in other ways, like pre-shift meetings, printouts, posters, etc., so that employees who have opted out have a way of receiving that communication.
Another thing we’re asked is whether employers are required to provide “paid time” if they are sending texts that are intended to be read when an employee is off the clock.
Again, including a simple message in the footer of each text that tells employees that they are not expected to read the messages when they are off the clock will help employers avoid claims for paid time.
But the real issue may be whether what’s communicated would be classified as real work under each state’s applicable law. Communicating a change in leadership or a new benefit is far different than requesting month-end reports by the next morning.
In addition to reminding employees that receiving text messages is voluntary and including the opt-out suggestions above, employers should:
- Set an expectation for what kind of texts they will send, such as general company news and information, logistics updates and notes of appreciation rather than an employee’s job performance or tasks.
- Establish who can send texts on behalf of the company and train them on what is and isn’t permissible to send, keeping in mind vital company policies like EEO, anti-harassment and social media use.
- Adopt a general policy that encourages/requires employees to notify management if the texts are inconsistent with company policy or taking up more than a minimal amount of time.
- Ask for feedback by conducting post-rollout audits or surveys to gauge employee feedback.
- Consider whether texts need to be sent off-the-clock in the first place. If so, at least try to limit the number of the off-the-clock texts.
Texting your employees can be your most direct way to not only relay important company info, but also get vital feedback from the people on the front line. But doing so requires you to be intentional and mindful about what you’re communicating - and when you’re communicating - to ensure your texts don’t go from wanted to unwanted...or unread.