I work at a marketing company and often work long hours. Sometimes issues come up outside of the office, and I frequently find myself using my cellphone (and personal computer) for work — sometimes to field client calls, but often from my supervisors as well. I’ve tried to discuss with my boss the potential for some compensation, but the request was dismissed because my contract did not explicitly call for me to use it outside of work hours. However, both clients and my superiors continually contact me on my cellphone. I was even asked to put my cell number on my business card. Am I required to do this and if not, how can I respectfully set limitations?
Well, there are two questions here: What can they require and what should they require? The “can” is easy enough. If you’re an exempt employee, your boss can require you to be available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re non-exempt, your boss has to provide you with the necessary breaks and pay you for every hour worked, including after-hours calls to your cell and overtime when you put in more than eight hours a day (in California).
California law also requires that companies reimburse you when you use your personal phone for business. They are supposed to pay a “reasonable” amount, depending on usage. Since you are expected to be available after hours, don’t (presumably) have a company-issued phone, and they want you to put your cell phone number on your business cards and provide it to clients, it’s pretty easy to see that they must reimburse you.
You can go to your boss and say, “Hey, I just learned that California requires companies to reimburse employees who use their personal cell phones for business calls. Would you like me to submit an expense report or stop taking phone calls on my cell?” You could, of course, add a third option of having the company provide you with a company phone — but then you’ve either got to get permission to take personal calls on that or you’ve got to carry two phones, and that’s a pain.
However, I don’t think the reimbursement issue is the big problem. You’d have a cell phone anyway, right? I doubt that these work calls are making a huge dent in your budget. (If they are, you might want to switch to a plan with unlimited talk; there are lots of them out there.) This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t reimburse you — they should. It’s just to say that this (most likely) isn’t about the money.
What it is about is boundaries and you feeling used. You didn’t sign up to turn your entire life over to your job, but that is the situation in which you now find yourself. You don’t have clear boundaries between your work time and your free time. Your work/life balance is anything but balanced; the scale has tipped all the way to the work side. That’s the real problem. You can’t get away from work without also getting away from your friends and family. Sure, you don’t have to answer work-related calls, but your clients and supervisors know you have your phone and they know you can see their number come up, so … Ugh.
It’s time to set boundaries. If your supervisors are rational people, they’ll understand. If they are not, this will not be the only issue. Depending on your industry and level, you may be the one being irrational.
In some industries, this type of contact outside work hours is normal. No one thinks twice about calling you on your personal cell phone outside work hours because everyone is receiving calls on their personal cell phones outside work hours. Since you’re receiving calls from clients and coworkers alike, I suspect your industry is one where this is the norm.
This means it’s going to be more difficult to push back and set boundaries. Difficult, but not impossible. You can start by having a conversation with your boss. Are you expected to answer each phone call, or is it okay to send them to voicemail and respond the following day? Are clients told you’ll always be available? Where is that message coming from? Instead of answering the phone, can you send a quick text message saying, “I’m in the middle of something, can I call you tomorrow?” Most people won’t have a problem waiting.
If your boss doesn’t find it absolutely critical that you answer all calls immediately, just send them to voicemail and deal with them in the morning. If your boss says this is a requirement of the job, then evaluate if this is the job for you. Even in industries where late-night work is standard, it is generally possible to find a job without all-consuming hours. However, keep in mind that if most of your coworkers are answering calls at all hours, they are likely to be promoted more quickly.
Overall, handling this will depend on your industry and company norms, and your relationship with your boss — but it’s likely that you can get reimbursement and a less invasive cell phone policy.