Breaks and On-Call Time for Employees
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require meal or rest breaks, but many states have laws that do. For breaks to be unpaid, the employee normally must be relieved of all work duties. Rest breaks of less than 30 minutes must be on the clock.
State-by-state comparision of 50 employment laws in all 50 states, including employee meal and rest breaks
Employers may not place any restrictions on a non-exempt employee’s activities while on a break. If they are restricted in what they can do or where they can be, an employer may have an obligation to pay them for the break. That includes overtime pay if adding in the break time increases the employee’s hours worked to more than 40 hours in a given week.
Confusion over whether a meal break is compensable usually arises when employees aren’t permitted to leave during meal breaks or when it isn’t practical for them to leave and return to work within the time allotted. If they are required to remain on the premises during breaks, they must be completely relieved of performing any work duties.
That requirement isn’t met if workers are required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating. Similarly, employees who face frequent interruptions, are required to attend meetings, or remain on call to return to work at a moment’s notice aren’t completely relieved of their duties and must be paid for their meal periods.
HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including overtime and FLSA requirements
If you allow a nonexempt employee to go home but he must answer work-related phone calls or be on call to work on short notice he may be entitled to pay, depending on how much freedom he has.
Waiting to be engaged. If an employee is pretty much free to do his normal activities and the phone calls are infrequent, he probably doesn’t have to be paid for the on-call time when he’s not actually working.
Engaged to wait. If being on call greatly restricts an employee’s personal life then he probably has to be paid for the entire time he’s on call, including time when he’s just waiting to be called.
Learn more about wage laws and correctly classifying workers in the Wage and Hour Compliance Manual