When Are Your Employees On & Off the Clock?

When Are Your Employees On & Off the Clock?

Workers On the ClockYou would think that by now, all companies would know the rules defining compensable work time — but a spate of recent lawsuits shows that confusion and lack of clarity still abound.

There are many employers that do not fully grasp the various circumstances in which they must pay employees who aren’t actively performing the duties of their jobs.  Don’t make the same mistakes!

Current employee compensation lawsuits:

Jesse Busk is a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the staffing company that employed him in an Amazon warehouse.  Busk claims they owe him for back wages, stating that they didn’t pay him for all of the time he worked, due to the fact that he had to spend a large amount of time passing through the company’s security system after clocking off each day. 

Frequently, this screening took as long as 25 minutes of his personal time.  Since these security processes only benefit the employer, and do not benefit employees in any way, there may very well be merit to this class-action lawsuit.

Just a couple days ago, a similar lawsuit was filed against Standard Candy Company, the makers of Goo Goo Clusters.  Workers there claim that they are not being paid for time waiting in line, putting equipment on and off, and traveling to their workstations.

It’s reminiscent of the Tyson Food settlement in 2011, when a judge approved a $32 million payout for workers who complained they weren’t compensated for time they spent putting on and taking off their safety equipment.

Do you have to pay employees while they’re changing clothes?

The Department of Labor has a lot of words dedicated to explaining when changing clothes is covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In general terms, changing clothes or washing before or after a shift is not compensable.

That being said, there have been many cases dealing with this issue, and it can be hard to decipher the intricacies of the decisions.  In fact, next fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case dealing with employees of U.S. Steel, who claimed they should be compensated for time spent donning and doffing safety equipment, as it fell under the rules of changing clothes within the FLSA.  This may finally provide some guidance on this subject.

Until then, a good rule of thumb to follow is to ask yourself whether changing clothes is required by the employer as part of the job, or if it is for the employees’ convenience.

  • For instance, can the employee arrive at work already dressed appropriately for the workday?  If so, then the time they spent changing in the locker room may just be for their convenience, rendering it ineligible for compensation.
  • On the other hand, if the employee must put on special protective clothing after they arrive at work, the employer may be required to pay them for this time.

Do you have to pay employees for charity work performed on the company’s behalf?

What about employees who are asked to participate in charity work on behalf of their employer in their spare time?  Should they be paid for this?

For example, a company adopts a piece of the highway, and tells its staff to show up on Saturday morning to clean it.  Is this compensable time?  It will be, if employees are required to attend.  On the other hand, if it’s truly voluntary to do the charitable work, then it can be unpaid.

Do you have to pay for employee training time?

How about training time?  Is that always paid?

If you require an employee to attend training or a meeting outside their normal work hours, you would need to compensate them.  But in an instance where governmental regulations require an employee to maintain certain certifications in order to retain their job, you would not be required to compensate them for that training time.

The wrap-up:

How does an employer keep all of these rules and regulations straight in their head?  Do you know the rules on paying an employee while they’re traveling?  What about meetings outside of work time?  Do you have to pay employees if there’s a power outage and the group plays cards while they wait for the power to come back on?  There are so many different possible scenarios to keep track of!

Get the answer to these questions online from the Department of Labor from the FLSA Hours Worked Advisor.  You can also visit the state’s website for more information.

So, when in doubt, visit government websites and look up the regs.  Better to pay correctly in the first place, than to find yourself at the losing end of an employment lawsuit later!