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 When Must Employers Pay Employees for Time Not Spent Working?

In some cases, federal law demands employers pay workers for the time that they are not working. Typically, this time is spent under the employer’s control and is for the employer’s benefit.

For example, you may be reimbursed for the time you spend on-call, time spent traveling for business, and in some circumstances, time spent sleeping. This usually does not apply to time spent commuting to and from work.

Examples of When Employers Must Pay for Non-Work Activities

Employee Wages for On-Call Time
If employees are required to remain on the employer’s premises, they may be permitted to obtain payment for time spent working or not working. Employees in a different location than their employer’s premises and have little to no control over their time or activities must be paid.

If any of the following conditions are placed on employees while they are on-call, they must be paid:

  • Being forbidden from drinking alcohol;
  • Being required to stay within a certain distance of their job location; or
  • Not being permitted to work for another employee during the on-call time.

For example, if you are a flight attendant and are forbidden from drinking alcohol, and you must stay close to the airport while on-call, you should be reimbursed for the time you are waiting to be called for a trip. If you drive a limo and are assigned to wait at the airport for a customer to arrive, you should be reimbursed for the time you spent waiting for them.

Employee Wages for Training and Education
If your employer has sent you to a class, conference, or other training or learning session, they must pay you for the time you spent there and the time you spent going to and returning from the location.

Employee Wages for Travel Time
Usually, employees will not be reimbursed for time spent commuting to work. If the job requires an employee to go to different locations or go out on calls while working, they should be paid. If you are called into work in an emergency where you usually would not be working, you would likely be paid for travel time.

Also, if you must take employer-sponsored transportation from a central location with other workers, you should be paid for travel time.

Employee Wages for Meal and Rest Breaks
States vary on laws regarding pay for meals and rest breaks. Some rules have a set number of breaks and how long each break should be, and whether they are to be paid. In states where breaks are required but are not paid, workers must be free from all work commitments. If an employee is expected to continue working or performing other job-related tasks while on break, they must be paid.

Employee Wages for Sleep Time
Companies that require employees to work 24-hour shifts at the job site may be required to pay workers for sleep time. For example, an ambulance driver working a 24-hour shift would likely agree with the employer that permits an 8-hour time slot for sleep.

The federal Department of Labor’s Wages and Hour Division requires an employee to be paid for an entire shift if they worked for less than 24 hours, even if some of the time they spent on the job was sleeping. For example, if a caregiver is scheduled to work a 23-hour shift and sleeps for 5 hours, they would be paid for those 5 hours.

In jobs that have shifts lasting more than 24 hours, the worker should be given an 8-hour timeframe to sleep and adequate sleeping facilities. For example, if a construction worker is working a 72-hour shift and receiving 8 hours of sleep for each of the three days, they would be paid for 16 hours each day. If they were called on by their employer on the third day and did not get their total 8 hours of sleep, they should be paid for the entire 24-hour shift.

What Are Some Wage and Hour Law Violations?

Wage and hour laws are in place to oversee the fundamental standards for minimum wages and overtime pay. The main wage and hour law regulating such topics in America is the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

Among other things, the Act covers these main issues:

  • Minimum Wage: FLSA sets criteria for the wages that are to be paid to employees;
  • Overtime Pay: FLSA states when and who may be qualified to receive overtime pay; and
  • Child Labor Protection: The Act also maintains provisions that protect kids from child labor.

The restrictions set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are to be observed by all employers, with very few exceptions. In addition to complying with all applicable FLSA standards, employers must keep proper records regarding wages and hours. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences and wage and hour lawsuits filed by employees.

Although each state maintains its labor laws and norms, the FLSA is universal and must be adhered to. There are several ways in which your employer might transgress the wage and hour laws of the state in which you work.

Some instances of this could include:

  • Failing to pay you your agreed-upon salary or hourly wages or unpaid wages, which is a breach of the employment contract;
  • Failing or refusing to pay you at all;
  • Not paying you at the agreed-upon time, such as biweekly, monthly, etc.;
  • Failing to pay you your vacation pay or sick pay;
  • Unpaid overtime hours;
  • Failing to reimburse you for business expenses that would otherwise be refunded;
  • Failing to cover your maternity leave if it would otherwise be covered; or
  • Wage garnishment.

Unpaid wages or a refusal of the wages, salary, or benefits that an employee is entitled to obtain are all forms of wage theft. This is one of the most normally occurring wage and hour violations. Unpaid wages occur when an employer fails to pay employees what they are lawfully owed.

Sometimes referred to as withheld salary or wages, unpaid wages occur when:

  • The employer fails to pay overtime wages;
  • The employer fails to meet minimum wage requirements;
  • The employees are deliberately miscategorized in such a way so that they are paid less than they should be;
  • Clerical or administrative mistakes are made;
  • The employee is not reimbursed for all of their services;
  • There are controversies regarding paid leave or other benefits;
  • Salaries are withheld when an employee files for disability; or
  • Business costs paid out of pocket are not reimbursed as they should be.

What Should I Do if My Employer Has Not Paid Me?

Your first step should be to speak with your employer to learn whether they have a reasonable explanation for failing to pay you. This could be due to a clerical mistake or a bank error.

If it seems that this is not the case and that your employer does not intend to pay you the money you are owed, you will need to contact your state’s agency responsible for dealing with wage and hour requirements. Further, you may wish to file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD“) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me Get the Wages I Deserve?

Suppose you have any questions regarding payment for non-work activities or have an issue with your employer regarding pay to which you are entitled. In that case, you should contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights, determine the wages you are entitled to receive, and help you recover any of your rightful money.

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