How Do You Define “Work Time” Anyway?

In order to know if the time you spend at work might be classified as overtime by the FLSA, you have to know how work time itself is defined. The FLSA language defining what constitutes work itself is vague enough, though, that each situation probably has to be figured out on a case-by-case basis.

For instance, in the 2005 US Supreme Court case of IBP Inc v Alvarez, the Court ruled that the time that employees spend walking to their production area after putting on required work gear is compensable. The time spent waiting to take the work gear off also is compensable. However, the time spent waiting to put the first piece of gear on before starting work is not compensable.

But all of this can be changed under a union or employee contract, if you’re under one, so, as always, make sure you read your employment contract carefully under any and all circumstances.

Here is a brief sampling of other examples:

If an employee mixes covered and non- covered hours in one work week, all of the hours will be considered covered. You can’t mix the two in any one week.

Time off for sickness, vacation, etc. does not count toward overtime, even if the employee is paid for the time off.

Small amounts of work time that can’t be accurately determined may not be counted toward overtime under a “de minimis” standard. In other words, a few minutes’ time spent by employees at work, for their own convenience, before or after their workday, doesn’t have to be counted.

Although an employee must be paid for every minute worked, many companies are in the habit of dividing time into fractions, like to the nearest five minutes, quarter hour, etc. This can be OK, as long as the work time averages out to the right amount over a period of time.

Employers must always keep accurate employee time records, although they aren’t required to use any one particular way of doing that, such as a time clock. And contrary to urban legend, an employee does not have to punch out at lunch time for that time to be considered off-the-clock, as long as all of the employee’s duties aren’t being done.

If you have any specific questions on how your employer is counting your time, especially if you are in the Atlanta area, contact this office.