Sleeping at the office could be in the cards for some area employees as thousands of tourists arrive and security measures tighten travel options. (KJETIL KOLBJORNSRUDK)
Sleeping at the office could be in the cards for some area employees as thousands of tourists arrive and security measures tighten travel options. (KJETIL KOLBJORNSRUDK)

When it comes to the workplace, just as in religion, there are the commandments and then, there is the love.

How companies combine the two in what will surely be a demanding work situation the weekend that Pope Francis visits Philadelphia can make all the difference in company morale and employee engagement, human resource experts and employment lawyers say.

"It's kind of the M*A*S*H syndrome," said Frank Linnehan, dean of Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, referring to the TV comedy about the esprit de corps built up in a combat medic unit.

"When people are in a difficult situation, they can bond together," said Linnehan, who led human resources departments in large companies. "There's a certain amount of pride for the people being able" to handle the assignment.

"You could have a T-shirt - 'I Survived the Pope's Visit,' or 'The Pope and I Spent the Weekend in Philadelphia," he said. "It's all in the preparation."

That may mean bringing in food, or arranging for movies or free Internet. And, logistically, Linnehan said, employers have to prepare by figuring out what they need and turning to employees for help.

"Is it an ask, or a demand? That's the way companies can screw it up. A lot of it is in how the ask is made," he said. "Companies need to take into consideration that some people won't be able to handle the extra work."

Single parents might not be able to spend the night away from their children, Linnehan said.

"Forgetting about the legal issues, you are saying, 'Basically, we need a favor,' " he said. That favor can be repaid with extra compensation, extra days off, rewards, or other forms of recognition.

Legal issues must be considered, too.

When it comes to wages, particularly for hourly workers, federal laws involving on-call work are most applicable, especially for workers asked to stay on the premises. "It's better if it's voluntary," said employment lawyer Jonathan A. Segal, a partner at Duane Morris L.L.P.

An employee required to stay on the premises for 24 hours or less and who is on call has to be paid, even if part of the time the employee is sleeping, he said. More than 24 hours, employers can deduct five to eight hours of uninterrupted sleeping time.

In general, "as long as [workers] are fully relieved of their duties," and not on call, they don't have to be paid, even if, as a convenience, they're offered a cot and a blanket for an overnight stay while the pope is here, said employment lawyer Daniel Johns, a partner at Ballard Spahr L.L.P.

If the person is on call, but not required to stay on the premises, the situation is "semi-technical," Johns said, depending on how much freedom the employee has on the job.

Another issue, Segal said, concerns employees allowed to work from home. Firms need to make sure they are working enough, but not too much, accruing unauthorized hours off the clock.

Employees, particularly low-wage workers who think they are being paid improperly during the pope's visit, should track their hours, remembering that they are owed time and a half pay after 40 hours of work, said Michael Hollander, a lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

In the end, though, what matters is how employees are treated in this situation, said You-Jin Kim, an assistant professor of human resources at Temple University's Fox School of Business. "When employees are asked to do extra work," but aren't treated properly, she said, "it can negatively affect their performance."

On the other hand, "when employees feel they are being well-treated," she said, "they feel an obligation for the future, and they are more engaged in the organization."