Wage and hour law requires employers to pay employees for their hours worked. As straightforward as the rule seems, “hours worked” does not exclusively mean the actual time you used to perform your job. In some cases, it can include the time you waited to do your tasks.
Engaged to wait vs. waiting to be engaged
Not all waiting period counts as work time. To determine whether your waiting time is part of your hours worked, you have to identify whether you were engaged to wait or waiting to be engaged because only the former is payable as hours worked.
If you were engaged to wait, it means:
- You have to wait before you can perform your tasks.
- You cannot effectively use the time for your own purposes.
- Your employer controls the time you spend waiting.
For example, if your shift starts but the company is operating a system repair, making you unable to perform your work, your employer still has to pay you for the time you wait for the system repair to finish.
On the other hand, employees waiting to be engaged are completely relieved from duties and can effectively use the time for their own purposes. Generally, those who are on-call are waiting to be engaged. Hence, the law does not consider that time as hours worked and does not require the employer to pay for it.
Qualifying “effectively use the time for their own purposes”
How do you know if the waiting time is long enough for you to use the time effectively for your own purposes? It will primarily depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. For instance, waiting for equipment to be fixed or waiting for a customer to come in is generally short and insufficient for an employee to use the time for their own purposes.
The law can sometimes be confusing and a simple word swap can change a phrase’s meaning entirely. Nonetheless, it is essential for you as an employee to know your wage and hour rights. If you are unsure whether your employer has violated your rights, you can reach out to a competent employment law attorney to review your case and possible remedies.