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What Counts as Time Worked under the FLSA?

Defining "hours worked" is one of the more confusing and fought-over intricacies of the FLSA.
  • Mar 23, 2012
  • Staff
  • Fair Labor Standards Act

Many employees and employees do not understand the intricacies of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). One of the most confusing and contentious issues is what counts as “hours worked” for an employee. While many believe that being clocked in is the only time an employee should be compensated for, this is not always the case. Working hours usually take place at an employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed work place, but there are other situations where employees may be compensated for performing actions outside of these traditional boundaries.

An employee is most often compensated for activities performed while being “clocked in.” There are little-known extensions of this concept that may shed light on unjust compensation by many employers. For example, being engaged to wait (the DOL example is a secretary reading a book while waiting for a dictation) counts as work hours, even though the waiting period is not technically work-related. Further, although travel time is not usually considered compensable, it is when an employer requires an employee to perform work-related duties while commuting, when the vehicle is not a vehicle not normally used for commuting, when an employee must incur extensive costs during the drive, or if they must take a different route. Although meals (if completely relieved from duty) are frequently not compensated, short breaks throughout the workday usually are.

In addition, employees may be eligible to receive compensation for off-the-clock work which may be done outside of the traditional workplace. There are many details and special circumstances, but some examples are:

  • Working through meals (must be removed from work-related activities)
  • Doing job-related paperwork at home
  • Making/responding to job-related telephone calls or emails
  • Maintaining/cleaning equipment before or after your shift
  • Staying late without recording the time (working “off-the-clock”)
  • Making work-related bank deposits (or other job-related activities) before or after your shift

Since there are many exceptions and intricacies in the FLSA and other labor laws, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) produces an Hours Worked Fact Sheet which outlines what is considered “hours worked.” In addition, it provides an FLSA hours worked advisor which is an interactive tool that aids employees in calculating the hours they should be compensated for. If you are performing any of the aforementioned activities or ones discovered with the interactive tool but are not being fairly compensated for them, you may be entitled to legal recourse. To find out if you may be eligible to file a lawsuit to try to recover fair compensation, contact an experienced FLSA attorney to receive a free consultation.