What Counts as Hours Worked?
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Understanding Your Work Place Activities
Have you ever wondered if you should be getting paid for the 20 minutes you came in early because you had to drop your child off at school? How about for that salad you had at your desk while monitoring the phones? For that seminar or tradeshow you attended? Taking phone calls at home? For travel time? In most of these cases, you should be compensated either through regular wages or as overtime payment.
How Does The Law Define “Hours Worked”?
In employment law, “hour worked” means the time during which one is employed, and for which the employee should be paid. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines this as to “suffer or permit” to work. State law often defines “hours worked” as the time during which an employee is under the employer’s control.
If the employer knows or has reason to know that the employee is doing something productive, then that time is “hours worked.” Furthermore, the employer must specifically forbid the employee from coming in early, eating lunch at her desk, or doing some kind of extra “voluntary” work. If not, then that time is compensable. Thus, “hours worked” depends on whether you are doing something productive for your employer.
What Does Not Count As “Hours Worked”?
Under the FLSA, an employee must be given a 10-minute break for every 4 hours worked. However, lunch time is not paid. The employee must be completely free during lunch time, or it will count as “hours worked.”
Commute time is not paid, because the law treats this as a personal decision of where to live. However, any travel time to another business locale must be paid, including overnight work (minus sleep time, eating time, commute time, and any other personal time). On-call employees may count stand-by time as “hours worked” if they are not free to engage in personal activities during that time.
What are Some Examples of Activites That Qualify as "Hours Worked"?
The following real world examples are common activities that qualify as hourly work:
- Coming In Early – Like working late, this is considered overtime as long as the employee is doing something productive. The employee should be compensated.
- Monitoring the Phones While Eating – Although the employee is having lunch, the employee can be speaking with a customer at any moment. The employee should be compensated.
- Seminar Attended – If the employee attends during normal work hours and at the request of the employer, then the employee should be compensated.
- Phone Calls at Home – This is overtime, despite the fact the employee isn’t actually at work.
- Travel Time – If the employee is traveling to or from the usual place of employment, then the employee is not working. However, if the employee is traveling on behalf of the employer, then the employee should be compensated.
Should I Speak with an Attorney about the Unpaid Hours From My Employer?
If you have any questions or concerns about when you should be paid, you should contact an experienced employment attorney who can provide you with the necessary information. An attorney can also assist you with a claim if your employer has failed to pay you according to state law requirements. If you are an employer, you should speak with an attorney to ensure that you have properly compensated your employees.
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Last Modified: 09-13-2012 03:27 PM PDT
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