Employee pay questions are incredibly common and ensuring compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can be confusing. One area that causes problems is the definition of compensable hours, or the time for which employees must be paid.

According to FLSA regulations, employers must keep track of the number of compensable hours that non-exempt employees work during a workweek. Compensable time or hours worked ordinarily includes all time during which employees are required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty or at a prescribed workplace.

“Workday” generally means the period between the time on any particular day when employees commence their “principal activity” and the time on that day when they cease that principal activity or activities. For this reason, an employee’s workday and time for which they must be paid may actually be longer than his or her scheduled shift.

Here are some common pay situations that trip up even experienced employers:

Waiting Time: Whether waiting time is “hours worked” under the FLSA depends upon the circumstances. Generally, if employees engaged to wait, meaning they must be ready to work at any moment, they are considered to be working even during periods of inactivity and they must be paid for this time. Examples of waiting time that would be considered hours worked would be the time spent by a line worker waiting for a machine to be repaired, a receptionist waiting for a phone call, or a fireman who reads a book while waiting for an alarm.

On-call Time: Any time employees are required to remain on call at the employer’s premises usually qualifies as working time. However, time employees are required to remain on call at home often will not qualify as working time. Additional constraints on the employee’s freedom could require this time to be compensated.

Rest and Meal Periods: Short rest periods (usually 20 minutes or less) are common in certain industries and must be counted as hours worked. Unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks do not need to be counted as compensable time when the employer has communicated to employees that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished.

Meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally are not compensated as work time, but only if employees are completely relieved from their work responsibilities for the purpose of eating a meal. Employees are not relieved of their responsibilities if they are required to perform any duties—whether active or inactive—while eating.

Lectures, Meetings and Training Programs: An employee’s attendance to lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities must be paid unless the activity is outside normal hours, voluntary, not related to the employee’s job, and the employee does not perform any other work.

Travel Time: Daily home to work travel is not work time; however, travel from jobsite to jobsite during the workday must be counted as hours worked. Travel from home to work on a special one-day assignment in another city (less the time the employee would normally spend commuting) or travel away from the employee’s home community overnight is considered compensable time and must be included in the employee’s accrued number of hours worked.

Keep these complicated pay situations in mind for your employees and if you have any questions, reach out to us at humanresources@helpside.com.