You went to work on time, got to your desk, saw that you were the first one there and decided to drop by the canteen for some coffee and to shoot the breeze with an acquaintance. Your boss was waiting for you when you came back. She admonished you for being late and said she's docking 15 minutes from your work time for your early coffee break. You ask, can she do that? Well, it depends.

While employees are generally entitled to compensation for the actual number of hours worked, if no official time records are kept, it is up to the employee to show that the amount and extent of hours worked is fair and reasonable. Often, there is a disagreement on what is fair and reasonable compensable time. Under the Portal-to-Portal Act, guidelines are provided to make those determinations.

Basic Guidelines

Under the Portal-to-Portal Act, a compensable workday consists of principle work activities that are:

  • Duties performed as part of your regular work in the ordinary course of business, and
  • Activities that are an integral part of or are indispensable to your regular duties

An activity is considered to be integral part of your duties, if:

  • It is made necessary by the nature of the work performed
  • It fulfills mutual obligations between you and your employer
  • It directly benefits the employer in the operation of its business
  • It is closely related to your other duties
  • The time spent engaged in such activities is reasonable and is not insubstantial or insignificant

In short, an activity is integral and indispensable if it is necessary to the principal activity performed and is done for the benefit of the employer.

Application of the Guidelines

Types of work-related activities that are generally not found to be compensable include:

  • Travel or walking time to or from the actual place where your principal work activities are performed
  • Waiting time if you are waiting to engage in work or to start working
  • "On-call" time when you need only to respond to a pager or telephone call
  • Sleep time for a tour of duty of 24 hours or more when the time is excluded by agreement
  • Meal periods when you are relieved of your regular duties
  • Time spent waiting in line to punch a time clock

Although usually not compensable, these activities can be made compensable by contract, custom or practice with your employer.

Types of work-related activities that are generally found to be compensable include:

  • Principal activities or work directly rated to your principal activities that are performed at home
  • Changing clothes or washing activities at the worksite
  • Work performed before or after a shift that is "suffered or permitted;"- the employer knows or has reason to know that the work is being done
  • Periods of inactivity that occur during the workday
  • "On-call" time when you are required to remain at or near the worksite
  • Sleep time when it is permitted by the employer or when the tour of duty is more than 24 hours
  • Breaks or rest periods of 20 minutes or less
  • Meal periods when you are required to work while eating at your desk or worksite
  • Travel time that occurs during the workday or is required by your employer
  • Time spent waiting for uniforms and instructions
  • Fire drills and disaster drills
  • Wage and hour law cases can be very complex, and an employment law attorney can best help you review your possible wage and hour law claim.

    Questions for Your Attorney

    • My employer says that I do not get short breaks because my shift is too short. Is this right?
    • Do all activities count as part of my work time, such as putting on clothing and gear that is provided by my employer and kept at my place of work?

    Tagged as: Labor and Employment, Wage and Hour Law, portal act, portal portal