Skip to content

A Surprising Discussion on Email to Staff in their Off-Hours

April 16, 2015

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Ministry staff is mobile, and most on the team feel called to their role. It makes sense, then, to make ministry email available to staff on their mobile devices so they can access it when not at work, right? Well, surprisingly, not always!

We’ve Got a Big Mission to Fulfill
The work of Christian churches and ministries is arguably the most important on Earth. The eternal future of peoples’ souls are at stake, and how efficiently and effectively we fulfill our call to ministry has an impact. Not that God is dependent on us to accomplish his will, but he has chosen to work through people. We are fortunate to be some of the people he has chosen to work through.

That said, we want to do as much as possible to fulfill his call with all of the flexibility our lives and schedule require! We’re not always at work, sitting at our desk or whatever other kind of “workstation” we may have. So it makes perfect sense that we want to have access to our email– and perhaps even other data– wherever we are and whenever we want it. Some call that pervasive technology.

Technologically, this is easy to accomplish. That is to say, it is not a very big IT challenge; the tools to do this are very mature. We can enable off-site access to email and other data very easily with today’s technology tool-set. But there may be reasons why our leadership should prefer that we don’t accommodate everyone on the team in this way.

HR Rules and Laws that Impact Pervasive Technology
In the U.S. there are laws that govern whether someone can be considered salaried (or exempt from overtime) or not. There are qualifying factors for exempt employees, mostly based on how much they make or on the types of responsibilities they have.  If someone is not exempt based on those legal requirements, they are subject to overtime for hours beyond the maximum limits set in law in your location.

Here’s where it gets tricky with pervasive technology. If someone is not exempt from overtime, they must be paid for the time spent responding to emails and working in their off hours. Depending on how many hours they work, those hours could also be subject to overtime rules in your location. And some localities have a minimum amount of time an employee must be paid when they work during their off hours!

If your organization sends email to non-exempt employees when those employees are off work, and the employees respond while off work because they feel they need to, the cost could go very high. For example, where I live, the minimum amount of time an employee must be paid is two hours. That’s a lot for a quick email response! And if they do that a lot throughout the week, it could amount to a lot of overtime!

To protect our ministries from legal exposures in this area, here are some steps to take:

  • Establish a corporate culture in which team members don’t feel they need to respond to emails and do work after hours. This is especially important for those who are not exempt from overtime rules.
  • Set a policy that says non-exempt employees are not to respond to work-related email or do work after hours– even if your systems make available the resources necessary to do so.
  • Set policies for your email server, terminal/ remote desktop servers, etc so that those who are not exempt from overtime cannot access their email or your data via their mobile devices or home computers.
  • Train your team members to include, when sending emails after hours to someone on staff, a statement that the recipient should wait until their next work day to respond (unless that is not true, and then the opposite should be stated); that the email is only being sent after hours because the sender had an idea and didn’t want to forget it by waiting until the normal workday.

Golden Rule Impact on Pervasive Technology
For those of us in ministry, protecting our “off time” is a challenge. This is especially true for those on church teams. The folks we serve often think of ministry issues when they’re off work, which is also the time we’re off work!

The unfortunate ones who pay the biggest price for this are those in our families. It’s so important for our family members to feel that they are important to us– a priority in our lives, and working in ministry often has us communicating that others are more important to us.

To protect our time with our family, we need to set a corporate culture where it’s okay to ignore phone calls and text messages and emails– even when they’re from those we work with and for– after work hours!

There are Christian churches and ministries across the country who are surprised when they find themselves in labor court over issues like this, and there are many raised in Christian homes who grew bitter because they didn’t feel appropriately important to their parents who worked for a church or ministry. The steps recommended here can help avoid both of those situations, and can help make your ministry an even more wonderful place to work.

Scroll To Top