The No Man's Land of Compensable Time

The No Man's Land of Compensable Time

There is a labor law principle known to us in the payroll industry as 'compensable time'. It is a principle that governs what time employees must be compensated for and what time is compensation free. To us it is a no man's land of sorts, especially because we offer customized solutions to the restaurant and construction industries – two industries where compensable time can include gray areas.

Compensable time is governed primarily by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, compensable time is all the time an employee spends at work – except when no work is being done. As you can see, such an ambiguous definition opens the door to those previously mentioned gray areas.


Time Spent On-Call

Whether we agree with the practice or not, some employers require workers to be on-call out of necessity. For example, an apartment complex may require one of its maintenance men to be on call for the weekend. Is that time compensable time? That depends on the circumstances:

  • Requiring the employee to remain at the work site = compensable time.
  • Requiring the employee to remain within close proximity to the work site = possibly compensable time.
  • Not allowing the employee to use the on-call time to do other things = possibly compensable time.
  • Allowing the employee to use on-call time to do other things = probably not compensable time.

This may not help much except for the first rule, but that is the point. The law is very ambiguous about on-call time. Employers have to decide on a case-by-case basis.


Time Spent Waiting to Work

Fortunately, time spent waiting to work is a bit more clear. If an employee is required to be at the work site while waiting for work to do, that time is considered compensable. A warehouse worker who has nothing to do until shipments start arriving must still be compensated for time spent in the warehouse.

If an employee is not required to remain on site while waiting to work, the time spent is not compensable. The best illustration of such time is the 30 minutes an employee spends waiting to clock in after arriving to work early.


Time Spent Sleeping

Time spent sleeping is reserved mainly for emergency workers like firefighters and ambulance crews. But it does apply to any employees who spend at least 24 consecutive hours of work. If an employee works fewer than 24 consecutive hours and is permitted to sleep, the time spent sleeping is compensable.

Time spent sleeping is not compensable if the employee spends 24 consecutive hours or more on the job and is given a regularly scheduled sleeping period of eight hours or less. The employee must get at least five hours of sleep during that eight-hour period in order for the time to be non-compensable.


Other Compensable Time

We have covered three of the most troublesome categories of compensable time. There are others that we do not have the time or space to get into. They include time spent in meetings and training programs, travel time, and time offered for rest and meal breaks.

If you need help with any of this in relation to your own payroll processing, we would be happy to help. We are a nationwide payroll and benefits administration provider with years of experience dealing with compensable time. We would be more than happy to customize a payroll and benefits solution for your company, regardless of size and industry involvement. If you are either in the restaurant or construction industries, we have specialized solutions for you as well.