It Might Be Time To Fight Back Against Those Late-Night Work Emails

05/22/2015 09:18 am ET | Updated May 22, 2015

Some employees are finally taking a stand against those late-night emails.

A small number of lawsuits by people claiming that they were not paid for working at night and in the early morning are currently underway and could signal a shift toward more relaxed expectations about when workers need to be online, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Claims filed separately by Chicago police officers and satellite-dish installers at DirectSat USA are seeking compensation for hours spent responding to work emails and downloading work orders. If the judges rule favorably, that could put pressure on companies to change how they manage off-duty work and encourage more workers to file class-action lawsuits.

In addition, the Journal points out, new Labor Department policies expected later this year will likely extend coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act -- which ensures that employees are paid for working overtime -- to more Americans who are currently ineligible for overtime pay because they earn more than $23,660 a year, or $455 a week.

Still, while companies can take steps to discourage overtime work, dedicated employees will probably continue checking those late-night emails. Though research continues to support the tolls of having an over-connected lifestyle, including poor sleep and decreased productivity, people often work around the clock -- even while on vacation -- to appear fully committed to their jobs.

But rather than putting the onus on overworked employees to sue their bosses, the U.S. might consider looking to Germany when it comes to protecting individuals’ rights and health. Last year, German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles proposed an “anti-stress law” to prohibit companies from emailing employees after hours. A government-commissioned research group, commissioned by Nahles, is expected next year to release its findings about the psychological and economics effects of stress.

Several German companies have already taken the lead on the issue. Automaker Daimler permitted around 100,000 workers to delete emails they got while they were on vacation, and Volkswagen’s servers do not send emails to its Germany-based employees after working hours.

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