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Do We Have to Pay for That?


The time that employers must pay for isn't always clear. To help make sense of the confusion, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about when companies have to pay employees based on Labor Department regulations.

Q: Do We Have to Pay Employees On Call?

Yes, your company is required to pay employees if you require them to remain on your premises while they wait for an assignment (for example, firefighters waiting for an emergency call). If this is the case, they are considered to be working and must be paid, even if they are doing other things, such as playing cards. No, you don't have to pay employees if you allow them to go home and they are free to leave messages saying where they can be reached. In most cases like these, the employees are not considered to be working. Yes, you must pay employees if you allow them to leave but restrict their activities, (such as requiring them to remain close to the workplace or not drink alcohol while on call).

Q: Do We Have to Pay for Travel Time?

No, you do not have to pay employees for the time they spend commuting back and forth from home. Yes, you have to pay for travel time if you have maintenance employees who use their own cars every day to travel to your branch offices in neighboring cities. You pay for time between locations.

Q: Do We Have to Pay for Meal Time and Rest Breaks?

Yes, you do have to pay if the employee continues working during lunch or rest breaks. For example, if your receptionist spends her lunchtime at her desk, answering the phone as usual and has not been relieved of her duties, you do have to pay her for the time. What if she works during lunch breaks against your instructions? It's up to you to enforce the rules. State laws regulate break periods, including the minimum time required for meals and rest breaks and whether the time must be paid. But even states that don't require paid breaks do require employers to pay employees if job duties are performed while on long breaks, such as lunch or rest periods during long shifts.

Q: Do We have to Pay for Sleep Time?

Yes, you must pay for sleep time if employees sleep less than five hours or are on duty for less than 24 hours. They are considered to be working for those hours, even if they are allowed to sleep or engage in other personal activities during non-busy times. No, you don't have to pay if your employees work 24 hours or more and you have an agreement that their work hours will exclude bona fide regularly scheduled sleep periods for not more than eight hours - as long as you provide sleeping facilities and they can generally sleep uninterrupted.

Case Study: Two Courts Agreed

Police officers employed by the City of Mesa, Arizona claimed that they should be compensated for the time spent before and after their work shifts, donning and doffing their police uniforms and gear. They filed suit, alleging that their employer, the City of Mesa violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. The City of Mesa, like most municipalities, requires police officers to wear certain uniforms and related gear, including trousers, a shirt, a name tag, a tie, specified footwear, a badge, a duty belt, a service weapon, a holster, handcuffs, chemical spray, a baton, and a portable radio. The wearing of body armor is optional. The officers explained that it was preferable to don and doff their uniforms at the police station for several reasons, including the possibility of theft or loss, soiling of the uniform before or after work, and the safety of family members regarding weaponry. The Court however, found that the time was not compensable because the officers had the option of donning and doffing their uniforms and gear at home. Therefore the district court found in favor of the defendant, the City of Mesa. The court reasoned that these activities were not compensable pursuant to the FLSA and thePortal-to-Portal Act of 1947, which relieves employers of responsibility for compensating employees for activities which are preliminary or postliminary to the principal activities of a given job. The Ninth Circuit court affirmed the decision. (Bamonte et al v. City of Mesa, No 08-16206 D.C. March 25, 2010).

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