Periods of down-time during the workday are frequent in certain employment settings. For example, a receptionist who reads a book while waiting for the phone to ring or someone to come into the office must be paid for that time. The Fair Labor Standards Act generally defines the workday as the time period from “whistle to whistle.” That is, all the time between the start of an employee’s workday and the end of the workday is generally compensable time. Remember, an employer may hire an employee to do nothing but wait for something to happen. Such readiness to serve is compensable work.

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s regulations specifically differentiates between on-duty and off-duty waiting time. Examples of on-duty waiting time include:

  • a stenographer who reads a book while waiting for dictation;
  • a messenger who works a crossword puzzle while awaiting assignments;
  • a fireman who plays checkers while waiting for alarms; and
  • a factory worker who talks to his fellow employees while waiting for machinery to be repaired.

Even where an employee is allowed to leave the premises during the period of inactivity, the time may be compensable where the period of time is unpredictable and of such a nature that the employee is unable to use the time for his or her own purposes.

For waiting time to cross the line and be considered off-duty time, and therefore not compensable, the employee must be:

  1. Completely relieved of duty;
  2. Relieved of duty for a long enough period of time to effectively use the time for his or her own purposes;
  3. Is told in advance that he/she could leave the job site; and
  4. He/she is told that he/she will not have to commence work until a definitely specified later time.

A good example of compensable waiting time is an employee who is waiting for a co-worker or a customer to approve a project prior to moving onto additional tasks, or who is waiting or searching for his or her next assignment. Such waiting time of an indefinite period is compensable.

If your employer does not pay for time you spend waiting within your normal workday, please contact Hawks Quindel today for a free consultation about your potential claim for unpaid wages.

Larry Johnson

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