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Texting 101

Everything you need to know about texting your employees off the clock

Fatima Puri
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Texting is a relatively new form of business communication, so not many people know the rules and legalities. 

While most businesses try their best to keep their employees happy with the promise of a work/life balance, sometimes communication outside of work hours is necessary. The question remains, is it legal? Do you have to pay your employees for texting them outside of work?

The rules and laws of texting employees outside of work

To best understand the legalities of texting employees outside of work, we first need to understand the difference between salaried and hourly employees. 

A salaried employee, also known as an exempt employee, is an employee who is paid a salary and does not have to log their work hours. They do not qualify for overtime pay. ADP defines an exempt employee as someone who “must be paid a salary above a certain level and work in an administrative, professional, executive, computer, or outside sales role.” 

Hourly employees, known as non-exempt employees, are paid hourly and must log every minute they work to be paid. Non-exempt employees qualify for overtime pay. ADP defines a non-exempt employee as a person “entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week.”

According to these standards, only hourly employees must log their hours if they work outside of regular business hours. So, if you text your employees outside of work hours and they are hourly, then you now need to determine whether you are asking them to work or not.

What is considered work?

According to the Wages and Fair Labor Standards Act, also known as the FLSA, “the workweek ordinarily includes all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed workplace.”

The key point to consider here is if you require your employee to take immediate action. When you text your employees outside of work, are you requiring them to take action on the spot? If yes, then this is considered work. If not, then it’s not considered work. 

But the line between required can be blurry. Most of the time, people can infer from the message itself but clarifying in your messages whether you want an action to be taken or not can save you and your employees a lot of guesswork and time.

Example of a text from work that requires an action 

Example of texting an employee when you want an action taken
An employer asks an hourly employee to look into an issue outside of work hours.

Example of a text from work that doesn’t require an action

Example of texting an employee without a required action
An employer lets hourly employees know that their schedules are out.

The etiquettes of texting your employees

One reason to avoid contacting employees off-the-clock is that it could negatively affect their work relationship and productivity. Striking a work-life balance is a dealbreaker for most employees nowadays, and you want to avoid anything that will negatively impact that balance. 

If you have to text an employee outside of work, here are some essential etiquette tips to follow.

Set clear expectations

You should be clear about the expectations and actions required when texting your employees off the clock. You want to ensure that your employees know what you want from them, including a time to respond.

Make texts work-related

Sending employees texts outside of work that aren’t related to work is a huge no. You also want to avoid sending marketing messages to your employees. Just because they work for your company does not mean they want to buy your product or service (or need it.)

Be concise

Don’t take up too much of your employee’s time. You’re trying to get your message across as concisely and quickly as possible without bothering your employee. 

Limit the number of texts you send

There is a difference between an urgent message and a non-urgent one. Sending numerous texts to your employees outside of work is not only bothersome, but it ruins the urgency of the text message when there are too many of them.

Express gratitude 

If you’re asking an employee to look at something outside of work hours, you should show them some appreciation or understanding that you are interrupting their personal time. It may sound simple, but a thank you goes a long way in the employee experience.

The bottom line: Texting outside of work is OK in moderation

In most situations, it’s best to avoid texting employees outside of work unless you need to communicate with them about something urgent or logistical. Use your best judgment in reaching out to employees off the clock, and if you’re hesitant about texting them, ask yourself if the text is necessary to send right away.

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