Believe it or not there are times when the law requires an employer to pay its employees when they aren’t working. I know what you are thinking – “Where do I sign up for that job?” Under federal law, an employer is generally required to pay an employee for all work performed. Under wage and hour law, the concept of “work” is a little broader than what most folks consider it to be. The Fair Labor Standards Act defines “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.” Therefore, there are times when an employee may be required to restrict his or her actions, or “suffer” as a result of their employer’s request or requirement that they be available.  Some examples of when you have to be paid not to work are:

  • On-Call time wages – In some situations you may be clocked into work, or present at work, and waiting on an assignment.  Similarly, you may be waiting on a task to be completed, or another employee, so you can perform your assigned duties.  One example is a delivery driver who has to pick up individuals or merchandise. Many times these type employees are required to wait or be on-call, all the while waiting on a certain event.  These periods should often be compensated.
  • Training and Education Wages – Many jobs require employees to attend seminars and/or professional development programs.  These types of events often require travel away from the employer’s principal place of business.  In many instances the employee should be compensated for not only the time spent in the seminar, but traveling to and from the event.
  • Travel time – In many occupations, there are times when an employee is required to drive out to a location, away from where the employer normally does business, to conduct job-related activities or work.  Similarly, employees are often called out to work areas because of emergency situations.  All of these times should be compensable.
  • Meal and Rest Breaks – This area differs from state to state.  However, under federal law, if an employee receives a break that is 20 minutes or less it is generally considered to be for the benefit of the employer and should be compensated.  In contrast, if the break period is in excess of 20 minutes, it is generally assumed to be for the benefit of the employee and may not be compensable.  There are several caveats on this point.  First, the employee must be generally free from all working responsibility.  It does not, however, mean that the employee has to be allowed to leave the working area.  Secondly, the employee should be given a reasonable opportunity to take the full break and not use part of their break putting on or taking off required clothing or sanitizing.
  • Sleep – Unfortunately, this category does not mean you can get paid to cat nap or daydream at work.  This category of employment is one that generally requires an employee to be at work for a 24-hour period.  Under Department of Labor regulations, part of that 24-hour period must be a designated block of sleep time.

If you need additional information on this subject, contact Roman Shaul, a lawyer in our Consumer Fraud Section, who has handled a number of cases under the FLSA.

Source: FindLaw.com (5 Times When You Have to be Paid for Not Working. October

19, 2010)

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