T-Mobile, an also-ran in terms of the popularity of its availability and services in the US, faces legal action on the part of some of its staff who are claiming that the operator makes personnel work after hours and without pay by requiring that they log-out of the company's time-keeping program but continue to use their mobile phones and email on T-Mobile's behalf.
As Martyn Warwick reports, the "always-on" society isn't necessarily the boon and benison it is usually presented as being - especially if your employer is exploiting you.
Three ex-T-Mobile staffers are mounting a class action suit against the company in a test case that throws into harsh focus the erosion of employee rights in a technologically sophisticated working environment as workers are expected to become part of the so-called "Crackberry culture".
A New York legal practice is upping the ante by putting out a public call for others to sign-up to the case.
The lawsuit alleges that the three man were required by T-Mobile to log-out of the operator's employee time-recording system but to continue to work - now unpaid - and to open and close T-Mobile retail outlets, arrange staff rosters, make calls on behalf of the company and participate in "other work-related activities" after-hours and for which they did not receive remuneration.
In a deposition lodged in New York City but relating also to practices alleged to have been commonplace in California as well, the law firm, Pelton Associates writes, "The Complaint alleges that T-Mobile hired retail sales associates and supervisors who were required to work well over forty hours per week yet were not paid wages or overtime compensation for all of the hours that they were required to work."
It continues,"The Complaint alleges that these employees were issued T-Mobile smart devices and were required to review and respond to numerous T-Mobile-related emails and text messages at all hours of the day and night, whether or not they were logged into T-Mobile's computer-based timekeeping system.
This is in breach of federal US employment law as well as state laws in New York and California."
The statement also alleges, "The employees were required to take and place T-Mobile-related telephone calls, participate on T-Mobile conference calls and to work 'off the clock' during scheduled lunch breaks.While plaintiffs were classified as non-exempt hourly employees they were typically required to spend 10-15 hours per week reviewing and responding to email, texts, phone calls, participating on conference calls and studying/reviewing corporate documents for which they were not paid any compensation."
T-Mobile rejects the allegations and says it complies with US and state employment legislation.
No doubt T-Mobile will vigourously defend the action but an increasing number of US lawyers are now of the opinion that it is only a matter of time before a case is proven and the floodgates to millions of dollars in compensation for exploited workers are blown wide open.
In the past operators have claimed that their employees "choose" or "elect" to use communication devices provided by them as work tools outside of working hours but in many cases it is now apparent that the expectation of the constant availability of off-duty staff simply because they have been "given" a communications device by their employer is not sufficient defence against accusations of exploitation.
Legal websites say employers that put pressure on staff to respond to work calls after hours, during the night and even whilst people are on holiday are indeed being coercive. They also say there is massive documentary evidence (in, of course, the form of emails) that workers who refuse to have any part of such exploitation and protest against it frequently are singled out and victimised.
The legal eagles add that many more cases will be brought next year and the greedy employers are on a hiding to nothing because their very own systems prove that they have been forcing people to work long and frequently illegal extra hours without pay.
The corporate notion that "We give you a cellphone and you give us your soul " is dying a well-deserved death and for those that don't see it, there's trouble looming.
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