Ask the HR Expert – Can we tell nonexempt employees not to check email and messages when they’re supposed to be off the clock?

by Paul Devlin

“Yes, you can tell nonexempt employees that they shouldn’t read or respond to messages when they’re not scheduled to be working. When communicating your expectations, it may be beneficial to investigate why these employees are checking email and messages outside their scheduled hours. If you determine there’s an issue with their work-life balance or workload, you may want to look into ways of helping them adjust. You might also consider implementing policies for after-hours contact to ensure each employee is clear on expectations.  How you handle the issue may depend on what’s driving it. Employees feeling the need to catch up on work they didn’t have time to finish during their scheduled hours would likely have a different solution than employees deliberately clocking unapproved time to increase the size of their paychecks. If, after communicating your expectations, employees continue working unapproved time, you can remind or discipline them, as appropriate.”  – Sergio (SHRM- CP)  Sergio has over a decade of customer service experience including non-profit, food service, and hotel management. He graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Leadership. 

It’s important to note that even when communicating your expectations, the tone and approach you take is just as important as the message itself. It’s best to remain constructive and supportive when speaking with employees, especially if it seems they’re working beyond their scheduled hours for personal or professional reasons. Additionally, you can provide tips and resources on how to maintain a healthier work/life balance, such as taking regular breaks throughout the day, setting clear boundaries between work and leisure time, and engaging in activities like yoga or meditation to help manage stress levels. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all of your employees feel supported and valued in their work environment.

By taking an understanding yet firm approach to managing after-hours contact, you can create a successful workplace culture built on trust and respect. This type of atmosphere encourages productive collaboration among team members and helps ensure that everyone feels heard and appreciated. By investing in the wellbeing of your team, you can create a workplace culture that continues to evolve and grow together.

This Q&A does not constitute legal advice and does not address state or local law.

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