Workplace Rights

Weekly (12/14/20)

Topic of the Week  Work Time

The work time page explains which types of work activities, including training and on-call time, you must be paid for and what rate of pay you are entitled to for your time on each type of work. It also explains when an employer is required to pay for travel to various work locations. Lastly, this page explains which laws cover work time, how to file complaints, and how to receive back pay and other compensation when you are not paid for valid work time. Generally, “hours worked” includes the time that an employee is required to be on duty or on the employer’s premises or at another prescribed place of work. Any additional time that the employee is allowed to work is also included. 

1. I have been looking for a new job for a long time, but have not yet been successful. I have been thinking about volunteering to work for a company for free for thirty days. Once they can see how I perform, hopefully they will then hire me. Can I do this?

While the frustration of an unsuccessful job hunt might motivate you to do almost anything to get your foot in the door, this offer is simply a bad idea. Were the company to take you up on it, in most cases the employer would be breaking the law. While there are specific exceptions for those volunteering for private nonprofit and governmental organizations, the law requires that if you work, you get paid at least the minimum wage ($7.25 under federal law, and higher in some states).

Even nonprofit and governmental organizations using volunteers cannot assign them to tasks similar to work customarily performed by employees. Volunteers cannot be involved in the nonprofit's work that is a commercial enterprise competing with other businesses (such as a church thrift store or a hospital gift shop.) And if you're seeking to volunteer for a for-profit business, think again. You cannot waive the right to receive the minimum wage for the work you do; otherwise, employers could routinely exploit desperate employees by asking them to waive all or part of their wages. A reputable company is not going to risk legal liability by hiring "volunteers,"-not when you could later sue them for back wages and penalties covering the hours you worked.

2. My employer pays me for the time I spend on-call, but at a much lower pay rate than for the time I actively spend working. Is it legal to do this?

It is not against the law to have a pay differential for different kinds of work, as long as you are paid at least the minimum wage for all hours that you work. If you are eligible for overtime, overtime pay is calculated based upon the type of work you are doing in excess of forty hours.

For example, if you work 30 hours a week for $15 an hour actively working, and the additional 10 hours a week for $10 an hour on call, and then work ten more hours, what you get paid depends on whether your work during that extra time is more similar to the higher-paying job or the lower-paying job: are you actively working, or on call?

3. I am on duty for 36 hours at a time, but am allowed to sleep during that time. Does my employer have to pay me for my sleep time?

If you are required to be on duty for more than 24 hours at a time, you and your employer may agree to exclude eight hours per day as sleep and meal periods, for which you are not paid, as long as your employer furnishes adequate sleeping facilities and you can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night's sleep. However, if the conditions are such that you are not able to sleep for at least five hours during the eight-hour sleep period, or you are forced to work during that period, then the eight hours revert to time for which you must be paid.

If your work shift is less than 24 hours, then any time you are allowed to sleep during your shift is considered paid time.

Thought of the Week

"Rest really does improve performance, mainly by nipping burnout in the bud. It’s been well documented that overwork has cognitive, physical and interpersonal costs, which can easily translate into lost productivity. "

–Sarah Green Carmichael | Editor with Bloomberg Opinion.

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from U.S. Travel Association

    Time Off and Vacation Usage

    • In 2018, the average American full-time employee earned 23 paid days off a year, but only used 17
    • More than half of Americans (55%) are still not using all their paid time off and those that are using their days
    • On average, employees earned 23.9 days of PTO in 2018, up from 23.2 days in 2017.
    • The amount of PTO earned and taken tends to rise with income earned. The highest income earners, those earning more than $150,000 annually, took an average of 22.5 days and left only 3.1 days on the table.


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