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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Here we are, working on a holiday. All of you out there listening, you're probably off work, right? Enjoying a drink, maybe some savory barbecue. Well, perhaps not. Many of us carry around digital leashes to the office: smartphones, iPads, Kindles, that sort of thing.

And as NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports, those devices mean you are always tethered to work.

HANSI LO WANG: For Dimitar Popov, a business consultant from Chicago, the day off from work is dead. Time of death? As soon as he hears this.

(Soundbite of a ring tone)

Mr. DIMITAR POPOV (Business Consultant): I took off work but with the promise that I would be periodically checking emails.

WANG: And returning phone calls and text messages from co-workers on his day off. He's spending it in an upscale hotel in Washington, D.C., where he's volunteering at a conference about his home country, Macedonia.

(Soundbite of typing)

But in between the panels and networking events, it's back to work in front of the laptop.

Mr. POPOV: At any point, in any day - weekend, weekday - you're expected to return phone calls, return emails, and there's really no shut-off point.

WANG: Popov says in his line of work he always has to stay connected, even when he's far away from the office.

Mr. POPOV: I mean, I feel it's a good thing for my boss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POPOV: And I guess it's a good thing for me in the sense that I have to meet certain deadlines.

Mr. TONY ONCIDI (Attorney): This is a concept that I refer to as BlackBerrys on the beach.

WANG: That's Tony Oncidi. He's a lawyer in Los Angeles who specializes in labor and employment law.

Mr. ONCIDI: It's a shorthand reference to the fact that employees today can sort of log on and be productive from just about any location on Earth.

WANG: There may be some places left to get off the grid - the middle of the ocean or on a mountaintop.

(Soundbite of theme song, "The Jetsons")

WANG: But those quiet places are disappearing in an age of smartphones, remote access and now video calling. The space-age world of the Jetsons doesn't seem so far off.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: Remember those videophones George Jetson's boss would use to check in on his employees?

(Soundbite of TV series, "The Jetsons")

Mr. MEL BLANC (Actor): (as Cosmo S. Spacely): Jetson, caught you again. Now stop goofing off on my time.

Mr. GEORGE O'HANLON (Actor): (as George Jetson) Your time. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

WANG: The time employees spent out of the office on mobile devices for work has become a concern for some employers.

Last year, a Chicago police sergeant filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago. He claims the city owes him overtime for all the time he spent on his BlackBerry for work, while off duty. The case is still in court.

Tony Oncidi says the Fair Labor Standards Act has strict rules on overtime for American workers who are paid by the hour.

Mr. ONCIDI: Even if the employee has not been specifically asked to answer emails after hours on a device or by a remote access avenue, but the employer permits the employee to do so, then the employer owes that employee that overtime.

WANG: Even if that's time spent texting from the beach.

(Soundbite of a beach scene)

WANG: That BlackBerrys on the beach concept Oncidi referred to earlier, it's something Lisa Reagan, who's in sales, says she knows too well.

Ms. LISA REAGAN (Saleswoman): I have a BlackBerry in the bag, got my cell phone over here - a separate one...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REAGAN: ...and a computer back at the townhouse.

WANG: Reagan is spending the weekend on a beach in Delaware. How does she feel about staying so connected with work?

Ms. REAGAN: I hate it. I'd rather it not happen. But with my field, other people might need my help. So I don't mind, I guess.

WANG: For some employees, though, there's still an option to go offline for the weekend. Brian Nelson brought his iPhone to the beach, but...

Mr. BRIAN NELSON: I haven't looked at my email in three days, which I'm sort of happy about. It's going to hit me when I get home.

WANG: That's right. He'll be checking his work email from home.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

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