The recent switch to remote work has shaken up workflows around the world. Management of a remote team relies heavily on the managers and team leaders. In many cases, team managers are the primary force holding a remote team together, coordinated and collaborating. Prior experience and natural talent vary, so results have also been quite variable. Some teams adapt quickly to remote collaboration, with or without prior experience, while others struggle to build a new workflow.

One of the greatest challenges of the new approach is how to clock working hours with remote-only work. How do you decide when an employee is ‘working’ vs ‘off the clock’ when their office is their home? Employers have erred on both sides of the law and respectful work policies. Some begin nickel-and-diming, marking employees as ‘off the clock’ the moment their keys stop typing or they are no longer looking at the camera. Others assume that at-home employees are on-call 100% of the time. After all, there’s nowhere else you could be.


“Zoom Hours” and Fair Pay Violations

The zoom-hours phenomena began with the rise of remote video calls between once-on-site teams. It occurs because employers don’t know how to treat the home as a workplace. Those who tend toward demand-shift scheduling will assume that you are “on your own time” and don’t have to be paid any time you are not actively working. Those who tend to expect unpaid “dedication” also tend to expect employees to be available-to-work at any time, because there is no commute to stop you from working.


On-Call All the Time

Legally, you are required to be paid for on-call time. This is a time where you could be called in to work at any moment, or for a shift without much prior warning. This time must be paid like a working shift because you are not free to make other plans. Quarantine changed that viewpoint. Employers drew the conclusion that since you couldn’t leave the house, all time could be on-call time without worrying about disrupting your global-disaster-limited options for personal plans.

The assumption is that if you’re not sleeping, you might as well be available for a work call or surprise assignment.

The Legal Violation

Legally, the birthday party rule applies even if you are stuck at home and unable to make diverse plans. If you are not scheduled for a shift or being paid to be on-call, you should not be called. If a surprise assignment could– for example– pull you away from a birthday party, then you were really on-call and should be paid for on-demand time.


Nickel-and-Diming by Timestamp

The other side of this is the “you’re only at work when you’re working” approach to scheduling. Zoom, chat, and online collaboration software introduced something that is dangerous in the hands of some managers: timestamps.

Timestamps and their offspring – activity tracking – make it possible for micro-managers to decide when an at-home employee is “really” working. Employers with problems with piecemeal scheduling may insist, demand, or sneakily enforce that any periods of online inactivity (your mouse doesn’t move, your keyboard doesn’t clack) as “not working”. 

This disregards the natural flow of a work day. Sometimes you are reading. Sometimes you are spending very important minutes thinking about a problem but not taking action. And quite often, you are taking legally mandated breaks for rest, meals, and personal care. This also ignores the fact that some work is done on offline platforms and your activity may simply be un-tracked as you work on a word-processor or design program without uploading the progress continually.

The Legal Violation

Employees have the right to two paid 15-minute breaks (not piecemeal) and one unpaid 30+ minute break every day for rest and meals. You also, according to federal and California labor laws, have a right to reasonable bathroom breaks and personal care breaks while on-the-clock. You can grab a cup of coffee and head back to your desk, still paid. In fact, employers who deny their employees the freedom and availability of on-the-clock breaks for personal care are legally liable.

This clearly defines the nickel-and-diming approach to activity-tracking pay as legally questionable. In many of the recent situations, employers have clearly violated employee rights. There are many other examples where employers have entered a shady gray-area of remote work and can be corrected with a legal reminder.


Are You Being Subjected to Unfair “Zoom Hours” Pay?

If your employer is not fairly paying you either based on time-stamps or unpaid on-call expectations, you have legal recourse. Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we are dedicated to helping employees get fair pay, both on-site and working remotely. There are already legal and logistical standards to capably manage remote workers with fair work and pay policies. Employers who go out of their way to take advantage of you working at home are just as legally subject as those who violate labor laws for on-site shifts. Contact us today to consult on your remote work situation.