The days of employees taking relaxing vacations away from their jobs are fading fast. Thanks to the constant connection created by technology, employees are finding it more difficult than ever to unplug and step away from their jobs. While they may intend to rest and relax during their vacation time, they inevitably find themselves checking email, answering work-related calls, or even working on projects.
This may seem like a winning proposition for employers. After all, employees who happily give their time back to the company without compensation are a valuable asset. Unfortunately, this is not as golden of an opportunity as you may think. As an employer, you must be aware of the hidden dangers that lie within this practice.
Reasons Employees Work on Vacation
A survey conducted earlier this year found that 66 percent of American employees admitted to working while on vacation. This number reflects a notable increase over previous years. The reasons cited include:
- Fear of falling behind on their work (34%)
- Concern that work will pile up while they’re gone (30%)
- Complete dedication to their employer (22%)
- Inability to disconnect (21%)
Others indicated a fear of possible repercussions due to missed goals or deadlines. Since Florida is an at-will employment state, some of these concerns may be valid.
The Problem for Employers
Employees who work while on vacation can inadvertently cause problems for their employers. The following scenarios may seem absurd, but they are all within the realm of possibilities. Each of these examples bring to light potential pitfalls that you may not have considered.
Imagine one of your employees, who is on vacation, is driving down the road and sees a light flashing on his phone. He decides to check his voicemail or email and return the message. If he gets into an accident while performing this task, is it possible that you’d be held liable? The answer is maybe.
Under Florida law, you can be held liable for “damage done from the negligent act of an employee” if the act is done “during the course of employment” or “within the scope of employment” to “further the employer’s interests.”
If it can be proven that your employees are in the habit of working while on vacation, their actions during that time could fall within the definition above. Under the legal doctrine “Respondeat Superior,” the liability could fall back to you.
Next, consider the possibility of an employee working on an important report from the desk in his hotel room. If the set-up isn’t ergonomically friendly and he develops a wrist injury, it could be covered by your worker’s compensation insurance.
Florida case law upholds worker’s compensation coverage for employees who are injured while on vacation if the injury occurs while performing tasks that benefit the employer.
Federal labor laws can come into play when employees work during unpaid vacation time. The law states that certain salaried employees who are exempt from overtime rules are owed a full week’s pay if they work more than one hour during the designated work week.
An actual case occurred when a large South Florida company tried to save on payroll costs by sending their employees on vacation for a week. Despite being told not to do so, some of the salaried employees logged into their email accounts and performed other tasks during their unpaid leave. Those who logged over 60 minutes of work activity during the week were entitled to the entire week’s pay, and the company suffered a significant loss in cash-savings.
The company repeated the exercise the following week, this time taking action to proactively lock employees out of their accounts. The second attempt was successful, but it cost the employer far more than it should have.
And, of course, non-exempt employees who perform work on vacation must be paid for all their time worked including overtime if they exceed 40 hours in a workweek.
Some Final Thoughts
Encourage your employees to use their paid vacation time each year. Ease their minds by ensuring them that measures will be taken to cover their workload while they are gone.
If necessary, use password management software or other security measures to restrict access to company files and emails during vacation time and unpaid hours. Your employees will return to work relaxed and refreshed. The end result is an increase in productivity and reduced likelihood of burn-out.
Although discouraging extra work initially seems counter-intuitive, it will benefit you in the long run. In a society where work-life balance is almost non-existent, you’ll be creating an extremely valuable benefit. Your company culture and reputation for taking good care of your employees will soon spread, making it easier for you to hire and retain top talent.