An employer in Texas will pay $460,853 to compensate 239 employees who weren’t getting paid for the time they spent staying after their shifts to update incoming workers. The oil refinery employees were scheduled to work 12-hour shifts, but at the 12-hour mark, they had to update incoming employees on what had happened during their shifts. The time spent debriefing the incoming employees took between 15 and 30 minutes and was unpaid. The US Department of Labor (DOL) investigated this practice and ultimately decided that the company had violated wage and hour rules, imposing an order for the company to pay back wages to affected employees (Department of Labor News Release, Dec. 2015).
Employees must be compensated for all “principal activities” related to their work, which means any duties that are integral and indispensable to the work an employee is performing. This is the case regardless of whether the activity takes place before or after a scheduled shift. Determining whether a task is a principal activity will always be based on the specific facts and circumstances, but the tasks that should generally be paid are those that are necessary for the safe performance of the job (e.g., employees working with toxic materials changing and showering because it is required for handling the materials), are necessary for effective performance (e.g., meatpacking employee sharpening knives before shift), or tasks that require significant time, concentration, and/or physical exertion.
Tips: This DOL investigation is a great reminder to make sure your employees are not performing essential work tasks during unpaid time. Ask your Vigilant employment attorney to review your wage and hour practices, ensuring you are not liable for any unpaid wages. It can be very tempting to have employees stay after their shift to get other employees up to speed, especially in manufacturing environments, but if you’re going to do that, be sure that the time is paid. Depending on whether you are located in California, Oregon, Idaho, or Washington, the overtime and wage and hour laws may be different, so be sure you’re familiar with the state-specific regulations. If you have concerns or questions about whether a specific activity should be paid, or classified as overtime, contact your Vigilant employment attorney and see our Legal Guide “Compensation for Pre-Shift and Post-Shift Activities” for more information. For more wage and hour articles, explore the latest topics in the wage and hour section of our employment law blog.