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:

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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