Do You Know When an Employee Needs to Be Paid?

HR & Safety

Managing a workforce is challenging, particularly if you don’t fully understand employment laws as they relate to compensation for at-will employees.

Should you be paying your employees for time spent traveling to work?

How about if an employee is placed on call?

And what about meal breaks? Should employees be paid during those times?

If you’re not sure of the answers, the following should help:

Travel Time as Hours Worked (for Nonexempt, Hourly Employees)

  • Commute time. Generally, time spent commuting is not compensable. An exception would be if an employee is required to report to a work location or leave from a work location that is beyond his or her normal commute, in which case only the additional commute time is compensable. If an employee is required to report to a meeting place where he or she is to pick up materials, equipment, or other employees—or to receive instructions before traveling to the worksite—then compensable time starts at the meeting place.
  • Travel during the workday. The general rule is that time spent by an employee in travel as part of the employee’s regular workday must be considered hours worked. The key is whether the employee is engaged in travel as part of the employer’s principal activity.
  • Call-back or emergency calls. Regular home-to-work travel on call-backs is not considered compensable time. Home-to-work travel is compensable if an employee is called at home after completing a day’s work and required to travel a “substantial distance” to perform the emergency job.
  • Out-of-town travel. Travel time between the employee’s home and the airport or railroad station is considered home-to-work travel time and not compensable (unless longer than the normal commute from home to work). All travel time that occurs during the employee’s regular working hours is considered compensable working time. If the travel occurs during normal working hours on non-workdays, the time is compensable. The U.S. Department of Labor does not count as working time any overnight travel that occurs outside of an employee’s regular working hours as a passenger on an airplane, train, or other mode of public transportation where the employee is free to use the time as he or she chooses and performs no work.

Waiting Time

Waiting time is not compensable if the employee:

  • Is completely relieved from duty and allowed to leave the job
  • Is relieved until a definite, specified time and the relief period is long enough for the employee to use the time as he or she sees fit
  • Arrives early to work and waits before starting duties

Waiting time is compensable if the employee:

  • Reports to work on time but must wait for work to be provided

On-Call Time

On-call time is compensable if such time is spent “predominantly for the employer’s benefit.”

The general rule is that an employee who is on-call is working and must be paid while on-call (even when not actually responding to a call) if there are significant restrictions on his/her use of time—for example, if the employee is required to wait near a designated phone or stay in only one location.

The least restrictive the on-call time is (for example: the frequency of calls is not significant; there is no unduly short fixed time limit for response; the on-call employee can easily trade his or her on-call responsibilities with another employee; and the employee can engage in multiple personal activities during on-call periods), the less likely that the time is compensable working time.

In all cases, any time actually spent responding to an on-call situation must be compensated.

Meal and Break Periods

  • Under Connecticut law, employers are required to offer a meal break of at least 30 consecutive minutes to any nonexempt employee who works seven and one-half or more consecutive hours (with limited exceptions, including when there are less than five employees working a particular shift or function).
  • The meal break must occur after the first two hours of work and before the last two. However, employees and employers may also enter into a written agreement providing a different meal break schedule than the statute requires, including foregoing a break.
  • The meal break does not need to be paid unless work is performed.
  • The employee must be free to leave the work area for the break period not to be counted as hours worked.

About the author: Joseph McQuade is a partner at the labor and employment law firm of Kainen, Escalera & McHale in Hartford. The firm represents the interests of employers only. 


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