How Much Is Your Downtime Worth?

Ever since the invention of the BlackBerry, an important cultural question has been kicked around in the trenches of business: Does having a job mean being available 24/7, and if so, shouldn’t we be paid accordingly?

For the latest thinking, let’s turn to Fortune’s Anne Fisher, who writes a long column in response to a webmaster who’s expected to be on call all day and all night. Forget about the little detail of the work week being supposedly only 40 hours long. “Oh, dear,” says Fisher. “This is complicated.”

In general, employees are considered exempt from overtime if they earn a salary and if their primary duties are executive, defined in part as managing two or more full-time employees; or if they are salaried administrators who exercise “discretion and independent judgment” in important business matters, the FLSA says; or if they are salaried professionals, a designation that covers people like lawyers with advanced degrees but is also a bit of a catchall, in that salaried “creative” people (artists, writers) also fall into this category. As webmaster, some of your duties may qualify for overtime exemption while others may not.

As one expert tells Fisher, “One issue here is, what is work? The technology is way ahead of the law.” And there’s the firefighter example to ponder:

Most of the time, a firefighter is off-duty but on call, hanging around the firehouse, cooking, sleeping, or whatever. What that person really gets paid for is the relatively small, but crucial, amount of time he spends walking into a burning building with an ax. A Webmaster, likewise, has slow times and busy times. Should he be compensated for the times when he is available but not busy? The Department of Labor hasn’t ruled on that.

Do you feel like you’re on call 24/7? Tell us about it below.

— Don Willmott

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