Clearly, when an employee gets to work, exchanges pleasantries with a co-worker, grabs a cup of coffee, and sits in the employee kitchen catching up on Facebook, the employee has not yet started “working.” He or she need not be paid for that time. But what about pre-shift meetings, prepping vehicles, cleaning tools, oiling machines, or donning safety gear? Is time spent in those work-related activities legitimately “off the clock”? Maybe not.
Federal, and possibly applicable state, wage and hour laws, including the federal Portal-to-Portal Act, require employees be paid for performing both their “principal activities,” as well as tasks that are integral to those activities. An “integral” task is one that must be done for the employee to perform his or her principal activity. For example, a machine operator has as a principal activity the operation of that machine. However, activities such as conducting a safety inspection or running a pre-operation checklist, lubricating or cleaning parts, or sharpening blades are an integral part of that principal activity. Without those tasks being performed, the principal activity could not occur. Accordingly, it is likely that an employee performing these duties, even if scheduled to be performed “before” the start of his or her shift, has started “working.”
Employers should be mindful of tasks that may seem minor, such as having shift replacements show up ten minutes before their shift “begins” to get a debrief from the prior shifts’ employees as to status, problems, etc. This time could very well be “working time” for which the employee should be compensated.
Another area courts wrestle with is whether time spent “donning” (putting on) and “doffing” (taking off) safety gear, protective clothing, or other work related items of clothing should be compensable time – and often it is.
Employers should be mindful of employees arriving before their shifts, or staying after their shifts, to perform tasks that are integral to their primary activity. Compensating employees for all time worked can help to avoid lawsuits claiming both that the employee was forced to work “off the clock” without being paid or that the employee would be entitled to overtime pay if all hours worked were counted.
Consult with employment counsel familiar with the wage and hour laws where your business is located to ensure that your practices are compliant with applicable law.