Workplace flexibility is at risk

By Rachel Greszler

The Heritage Foundation

You’ve probably heard about employers that block workers’ access to personal email accounts on work computers. But now, thanks to a new Department of Labor overtime rule, some employers are blocking workers’ access to work emails after hours.


Because although many employers probably want employees to be able to check work email whenever they want, they don’t want to be forced to pay employees time and a half for doing so, which is what the overtime rule mandates.

Under the new rule, employers must pay workers with annual salaries under $47,476 overtime for any work over 40 hours in a given week. So employers are being more cautious about restricting workers’ hours and access to work-based resources.

That’s not quite the result the Obama administration touted when pushing for the rule. The president’s team claimed that employees weren’t being fairly compensated (despite the fact that salaries reflect mutual agreements between workers and employers) and that the rule would put $1.2 billion more per year into workers’ paychecks.

But employers have bottom lines, not $1.2 billion slush funds they can tap into without consequence.

Lowering base salaries

Instead of increasing workers’ pay, most employers are figuring out how they can keep pay the same by imposing new restrictions on their workers and by lowering their base salaries or by making them hourly employees. This will presumably leave employees with a lessened ability to determine their schedules as they wish.

Most employers want to afford their employees, who might need to attend a child’s soccer game or school function, the ability to take off two hours one week and then make up the time later. They won’t, however, want to do this if it means cutting the employee an extra check for three hours of work he didn’t perform.

At least one employment law firm has advised its employer clients to prevent employees who make less than $47,476 from accessing company systems remotely.

So much for those flexible work schedules women have brought to the workforce in recent decades.

For some women, the flexibility they desire and have worked so hard to obtain could be gone in one fell swoop. At least that’ll be the case for the 35 percent of salaried workers who earn less than $47,476 per year. (A larger share of workers earns less than $47,476, but some are not salaried employees.) That’s because employers who want to avoid big cost increases and potential lawsuits will likely revert to more traditional 9-to-5 schedules and may require employees to be in the office during those hours.

Salaries, as opposed to hourly wages, are desirable for workers and employers alike. They provide stable incomes for workers and stable expenses for employers. Moreover, they allow workers to be paid to get a job done as opposed to being paid for the hours they clock. This encourages greater productivity and can allow workers the flexibility they desire or need in order to balance their work and home commitments.

So why is the administration promulgating a change that limits email access and restricts the choices workers have in their jobs? This is one rule that belongs in the spam folder.

Rachel Greszler is a senior policy analyst specializing in economics and entitlements at The Heritage Foundation. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.