Employers need to ensure they count all worked hours as paid hours for their non-exempt staff. For example, when an employee eats lunch at their workstation or desk and their lunch is interrupted by work such as answering phones or email, the employee is working and must be paid for that time because the employee has not been completely relieved from duty.
If the employer has a policy that is expressly and clearly communicated to the employee regarding a specific length of time for a break, any unauthorized extensions of that break time do not need to be counted as hours worked. Bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally need not be compensated as work time. However, the employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), doesn’t require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, though some states do require such breaks and the rules can also be different for younger workers. You can find a list of state meal and rest break laws at the Department of Labor’s website address: https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/meal.htm and https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/rest.htm.
Employers that fall under the federal guidelines do not have to pay for meal or rest breaks unless:
- The employee works through or during their break, or
- The break lasts 20 minutes or less, or
- The break is interrupted by work
Some other compensable time under the federal rules can include waiting time, on-call time, attendance at meetings and training programs, travel time and performing work outside of work hours such as checking emails.
Waiting time may or may not be hours worked depending upon the circumstances. If an employee needs to wait before a duty can start, such as a firefighter waiting for an alarm, then the employee is ‘engaged to wait’ and this time is considered worked time and must be paid.
On-Call time is paid time if the employee is required to remain on the employer’s premises. In most cases, the on-call time does not have to be paid when an employee is not required to remain on the employer’s premises. However additional requirements put on the on-call time that further limits the employee’s freedom could require the time to be compensated.
Attendance at meetings or training programs is paid time when any of the following conditions are true:
- It is during normal hours,
- It is mandatory,
- If the employee feels that they should or need to attend, then it is mandatory
- It is job-related
Travel time may be paid time or not depending upon the kind of travel involved. Regular commute time to and from the work site is not paid time. When the employee works at a different work site location then any commute time that is greater than the employee’s regular commute time to their usual work site needs to be counted as paid time.
Travel that is part of the regular work duties, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, is work time and must be counted as hours worked. Overnight travel is work time and must be paid time
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