Businesses that are struggling in today’s COVID-19 pandemic world have a friend in Senate Bill 47, which updates Ohio law to address the 21st century workforce. Those updates come with concern from labor groups.
At issue is the growing number of people who are now working from home, and the blurred line that attempts to separate what is considered their work time from their free time.
Arguments are expected to be heard this week before the Ohio Senate Ways and Means Committee. Supporters will testify the bill provides employers needed clarity and protection from lawsuits during a time when thousands of people are working unsupervised from home. Opponents will counter that new rules could create a system that harms hourly employees, adding that current federal labor laws already provide adequate protection for employers.
The Ohio Senate, under the leadership of President Matt Huffman of Lima, is doing the right thing in addressing this issue.
Working from home — once considered a perk — has now become a norm for many businesses. Enterprise Technology Research predicts the percentage of people permanently working from home will double this year. Forbes media company, which focuses on business issues, estimates 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month by 2025.
Indeed, almost everywhere you look you can find someone checking a text or email on a smartphone. You see it in airports, restaurant lines and grocery stores — 24/7. The use of smartphones, laptops, iPads and other technology has forever changed how the public and businesses function. At any given time, an employee can receive emails, download documents and access the Internet from the safety of their homes, not needing to worry about the pandemic.
What’s happened, though, is some hourly employees feel obligated to “stay connected” and check their devices at night, on weekends and even during vacations while “off the clock” – raising issues about compensation.
SB 47 seeks to lower the risk of surprise litigation from an employee who alleges he or she deserves to be paid for these extra hours, even though their employer never scheduled the work or had any knowledge of the work performed. The bill prevents workers from claiming overtime for things such as checking emails, listening to voicemails or driving to work.
At the same time, legislators cannot allow SB 47 to be used as a tool to strip compensation from “on call” workers ” — such as those in maintenance, safety services or the medical field. The fact that these people are being “required” to be available to perform a work function is a reasonable argument for compensation.
What needs to be remembered in the current arguments is the acknowledgment that SB 47 not only protects an employer, but it’s also a safeguard for workers. It emphasizes that “off the clock” workers cannot be expected to work without compensation, nor should they expect to be paid for work that was never assigned to them.