FLSA 103: Defining What Constitutes “Hours Worked”

Employees must be paid wages for all time worked.  Period. That’s the law.  It seems simple enough but the seeming simplicity of that statement can be deceptive.  What constitutes “time worked” has remained an elusive concept for many employers.  As a result, the issue of what should be included in a calculation of the total time worked for compensation purposes, has generated a great deal of case law on the issue–some making clearer and others making the issues even more complex.

Work “suffered” is time worked.  Work that was not requested by the employer but that was “suffered” or “permitted” is considered time worked.  Then, of course, the question becomes when has an employee “suffered work.”image

Waiting time is counted as time worked when the employee is unable to use the time effectively for his own purposes and the time is controlled by the employer.   Waiting time is not counted as hours worked when the employee is completely relieved from duty; and the time is long enough to enable the employee to use it effectively for his own purpose.

On-call time is time worked when the employee has to stay on the employer’s premises or the employee has to stay so close to the employer’s premises that he cannot use that time effectively for his own purposes. But, simply being required to wear a pager or to leave word at home or with the employer about where the employee can be reached, is not considered “on-call” time that constitutes “work suffered.”

Meal periods are not hours worked when the employee is relieved of duties for the purposes of eating a meal.  But rest periods (include smoking breaks, if permitted), lasting 5 to 20 minutes are counted as time worked and must be paid accordingly. 

When traveling between work and home, employees are not considered to be working and the time spent traveling is not working time.  Travel during the normal working day between job sites is considered working time.

Time employees spend in meetings, lectures, or training, is considered hours worked and must be paid unless:

  • attendance is outside regular working hours;
  • attendance is voluntary;
  • the course, lecture, or meeting is not job-related; and
  • the employee does not perform any productive work while attending.

For more about the basics of the FLSA, see:

FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
FLSA 102: Minimum Wage Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act

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