Employees must be paid for all working time, but the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not specifically define “work.” However, the regulations do describe activities that count as “hours worked” including travel time, meeting time and certain preparatory and concluding activities (like donning personal protective equipment or otherwise getting ready for the job).
Generally, activities performed before or after the employee engages in regular job tasks must be counted as work if they are “principal activities.” This term is not specifically defined either, but the regulations do give examples as follows:
1) A lathe operator will frequently, at the start of his workday, oil, grease or clean his machine, or install a new cutting tool. These are principal activities — they are necessary for the job and they benefit the employer, so the employee must be paid for time spent performing these tasks.
2) A garment worker in a textile mill must report 30 minutes before other employees to distribute clothing at workstations and prepare the machines for operation by other employees. These are principal activities, and the employee must be paid for the time.
3) If an employee in a chemical plant cannot perform his principal activities without putting on certain clothes, then changing clothes at the beginning and end of the workday is a principal activity.
If changing clothes is merely a convenience to the employee and is not directly related to his principal activities, it is not a principal activity. For example, if a carpenter chooses to change clothing to keep his street clothes from getting dirty, he does so for his own benefit, not for the employer’s benefit. The time spent changing clothes (for the employee’s own benefit) would not count as working time.
Two cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court further illustrate the activities that are considered an integral part of employees’ jobs. In one case, employees changed their clothes and took showers in a battery plant where the manufacturing process involved the extensive use of caustic and toxic materials. In another, knifemen in a meatpacking plant sharpened their knives before and after their scheduled workday. In both cases, the Supreme Court held that these activities are an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ principal activities.
In short, activities must be counted as hours worked if they are indispensable to the performance of an employee’s work or are required by law or by the rules of the employer (such as OSHA regulations that require personal protective equipment). If preparatory and concluding activities are necessary for the job, and are performed for the benefit of the employer, they are regarded as “work” and are compensable under the FLSA.
For more information, contact the Association’s HR Hotline at 814/833-3200 or 800/815-2660.