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What Is Work Time?

What Is “Work Time?”

What Is Work Time?Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), employers must compensate hourly  employees for the time they work and pay time and a half for working more than 40 hours in a work week. But what’s “work time?” Generally, this means hours spent predominantly for the employer’s benefits. Examine your business practices to see whether you’re required to compensate hourly employees for various activities. Here are some examples.

Clocking in and out

In most companies, it takes a few moments for hourly employees to clock in and out of work each day. However, at Amazon, and in similar situations, warehouse employees must pass through security lines for this task. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that this added time—about 25 minutes in the Amazon warehouse situation—is not work time; employees are not compensated for this.

Time off for breaks and meals

Rest periods are counted as “work time” if they last 20 minutes or less. But meal periods running at least 30 minutes are not work time requiring compensation as long as the employee is completely off duty for this time. If employees skip meal breaks, they have to be paid.


Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs, and similar activities does not count as work time if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. Attendance is outside the employee’s regular working hours
  2. Attendance is voluntary
  3. The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee’s job
  4. The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.

However, there are a couple of exceptions. One is where the courses are provided by an independent institution and employees voluntarily attend outside of work hours, whether or not directly related to the job or paid for by the employer. Another is where an employee, on his or her own initiative, takes courses after hours at an independent institution. But whether these exceptions apply is very fact-sensitive. The U.S. Department of Labor looked at 6 situations to see whether employees taking courses should be compensated for their time.


Generally, an employee’s time travel to and from the place of performing services is not compensable “work time;” it’s personal commuting time. However, travel from a designated workplace (e.g., headquarters) to a worksite usually is counted as hours worked when an employee is required to report to receive instructions, perform work there, or pick up tools; any preliminary or postliminary activity is not compensable. For example, some employees in the construction industry must travel from company headquarters to job sites, or may go directly to job sites. The job sites may be local or remote (with employees either commuting or staying at the remote worksite). Whether this travel time is “work time” again depends on the situation. The DOL looked at 3 situations.

Final thought

Employers must establish business practices to conform with FLSA rules. The DOL has a list of various situations on work time. Be sure to properly document all employee hours. The DOL has guidance on this obligation.