Understanding Compensable Hours

In general, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements apply to the time employees are required to be at work or on duty and subject to their employer’s control. Questions frequently arise about whether time spent on job-related activities, such as travel time, sleep time and meal or rest breaks must be counted as compensable hours for the purposes of paying the employee for “time worked”.

Travel Time Clarification
Travel to and from work: Ordinary home-to-work travel by employees—that is, the kind involved in reporting to work at the start of the day and returning to home at day’s end—does not count as time worked under the FLSA. However, once the employee has reported to work for the day, time spent traveling from one site to another as part of their duties, must be reported as time worked.

  • Overnight Travel
    When employees must take a trip that keeps them away from home overnight, all time spent traveling during the hours corresponding to the employees’ normal working hours must be counted as time worked. Travel hours on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays that correspond to an employee’s normal working hours on other days of the week also must be counted as time worked.For example, an employee normally works Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The employer would not be required to count travel time before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. as time worked, when the employee is a “passenger.” For this employee, travel time between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday would also count as time worked.An employee must be compensated for all the time they spend on their work activities, regardless of the day or time. If an employee actually performs “work” while traveling, as opposed to merely being a passenger, the time would count as time worked for purposes of compensation even when the time is outside their normally scheduled work hours.
  • Special One-Day Trips
    When employees who normally work at one location are given a special one-day assignment that requires them to travel to another city, all the travel time involved counts as time worked. The only time that can be excluded are meal periods and the time spent traveling between the employee’s home and the point of departure—for example, an airport or rail station. This home-to-depot times falls into the standard home-to-work travel exemption.

Sleep Time
Employees might have to be compensated for on-the-job time spent sleeping or engaging in other personal business, depending on the schedules they are required to work.

  • Less than 24 hours
    Employees who are on duty for less than a 24-hour period and who are permitted to sleep or engage in other personal activities when not busy must be paid for the sleeping time or other personal activity they engaged in during their required schedule.
  • 24 hours or more
    When an employee is required to be on duty for 24 hours or more, the employer and employee can agree to exclude from time worked a sleeping period of not more than eight hours, provided adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer and the employee usually can enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep. If the employee’s regular sleeping period is interrupted by a call to duty, the time involved in the interruption must be counted as time worked. The entire sleeping period must be counted as time worked if the employee is so interrupted that a reasonable night’s sleep is impossible. According to the Wage-Hour Division, if the employee cannot get at least five hours’ sleep during the scheduled time, the entire time must be counted as time worked.

Other Activities
Under the FLSA, the term “time worked” covers other activities and time spent by employees in the course of a workday, even though such activities might not be part of the workers’ principal duties. Examples of these activities include:

  • Rest time and breaks
    The FLSA does not require employers to grant rest periods. However, if employers allow rest periods, rest periods and breaks of up to 20 minutes duration must be counted as compensable time because such breaks are viewed as time spent for the employer’s benefit.
  • Lunch Periods
    Bona fide lunch or meal periods do not have to be counted as compensable time. For a meal period to be bona fide, it ordinarily must last at least 30 minutes, and the employees must be completely relieved of their duties. An employer does not have to allow employees to leave the premises during a meal period, but the time employees remain on site will count as time worked if they are required or permitted to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, during the time designated for eating.
  • Unauthorized work
    Work that an employer does not authorize or request but “permits” is compensable time under the FLSA. If an employer knows or has reason to believe that an employee is working beyond authorized hours, the time spent must be counted as time worked. The pay-for-unauthorized work rule applies to work performed by employees on the employer’s property, at home or elsewhere off the premises.