If an employee working remotely from home takes a short break to stretch their legs, make a cup of coffee or use the bathroom, does their employer have to pay them as if they were still working?
The answer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is yes.
In a technical bulletin issued earlier this month to U.S. Bureau of Wage & Hour field staff, the USDOL said the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) generally requires employers to pay workers for short breaks of less than 20 minutes whether they are in the workplace or working from their home.
“By their very nature, such short breaks primarily benefit the employer by reducing employee fatigue and helping employees maintain focus and be more productive at work,” the bulletin stated. “When employees take short breaks of 20 minutes or less, the employer must treat such breaks as compensable hours worked regardless of whether the employee works from home, the employer’s worksite, or some other location that is not controlled by the employer.”
Employers are not, however, required to pay hourly employees for longer meal breaks, which are typically 30 minutes or more, provided the employee is “completely relieved from duty,” the bulletin said. For example, an hourly employee taking a 30-minute meal break who is repeatedly interrupted by work phone calls lasting for several minutes at a time must still be paid for that “meal break” because he or she was never completely off duty.
On the other hand, when an employer allows a remote worker to schedule a 30-minute or longer break during the workday to pick up children from school, do laundry, make dinner, or perform other uninterrupted personal activities, the employee is not entitled to be paid for that time, DOL said.
“Bona fide meal breaks and periods where employees are completely relieved from duty and are able to effectively use the time for their own purposes are not hours worked under the FLSA,” the bulletins said. “This is true regardless of the location from which employees perform their work.”