Crime And A Half

On The Clock

The FLSA requires you to pay non-exempt employees for every hour they're on duty-any time they're engaged in their regular work, even if it's before or after their scheduled workday, and regardless of whether the hours are recorded on their time sheets. If they come in early to set up or stay late to put things away, you have to pay them, so insist that they record the time. If you don't want to pay overtime, tell them not to come in early and chase them out at the end of the scheduled workday. Likewise, insist that employees working from home keep proper records of hours.

What if they're not actually working? If they're driving between the workplace and home, that doesn't count as being on duty, but if they're driving from one job site to another, that counts. If employees are standing around waiting for an assignment or waiting for a broken machine to be repaired, they're still on duty and must be paid. Employees on short breaks (20 minutes or less) must be paid, but those out for lunch (30 minutes or more) do not-provided they are relieved of their duties during that time. Recent court cases have established that if workers have to wear pagers and rush to the phone when paged or stay near the reception desk while eating in case someone comes in, they're not on break.

Employees attending meetings or training must be paid for their hours, unless the meetings aren't directly related to their jobs and they're attending voluntarily, outside their normal work hours. The overriding question is whether any productive work is performed during the training. If it is, then you have to pay for the time. So you can't label a new employee's first two weeks on the job as an unpaid training period. If the employee is on a business trip of fewer than 24 hours, you have to pay for the entire period, except for ordinary commuting time and meal breaks. That's the law, even if the employee spends part of the time sleeping. For extended trips-more than 24 hours-you can exclude up to eight hours per day for eating and sleeping if you've provided adequate sleeping facilities and the employee can sleep without work-related interruptions.

Hours worked also include time spent during the normal workday waiting for or receiving medical attention on the premises or at the employer's direction, time spent in grievance hearings, and civic and charitable work you've directed the employee to perform.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Crime And A Half.

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