When You Have to Be Paid for Not Working

Find out the rules regarding pay for things like on-call time, sleep time, education, training, and breaks.

Believe it or not, you may have the right to be paid for time you don't spend actually working for your employer. Under federal law, you are entitled to earn pay for the time you spend under your employer’s control or for your employer’s benefit, even if you are not performing your job. Generally, this does not include the time you spend commuting to and from work each day. It does, however, include other time that you cannot spend as you wish, even if you do not spend that time actually performing your regular job duties.

Here are a few common situations when you might have the right to be paid for time you don't spend working.

On-Call Time

If you are required to stay on your employer's premises while waiting for a work assignment, your employer must pay you for that time, even if you don't spend it actually performing job tasks.

In addition, if you must be on call elsewhere, your employer must pay you for hours over which you have little or no control and which you cannot use for your own enjoyment or benefit. In other words, if your employer places significant restrictions on you when you are on call, then you may be entitled to pay, especially if you get called into work fairly often. For example, if you must remain close to the workplace, cannot drink alcohol, and are called into work several times during each on-call shift, you are probably entitled to compensation for all of your on-call hours.

Sleep Time

You are entitled to be paid for any time that you are allowed to sleep during a shift. However, if you must be on duty for more than 24 hours at a time, you and your employer may agree to count eight of those hours as unpaid time for meals and sleep periods. If you end up working during that unpaid period, however, or if you are unable to get at least five hours of sleep during that time because of work conditions, your employer must pay you for those eight hours.

Travel Time

Although you are not generally entitled to wages for the time you spend commuting to and from your job each day, you are entitled to be paid for travel time if that time is part of the job. If, for example, your employer requires you to go out on service calls, the time you spend traveling to and from customers must be paid. Even if your job does not ordinarily involve travel, your employer must pay you for travel time if you are required to come to the workplace at odd hours to deal with emergency situations. Also, if your employer requires you to take employer-provided transportation from a central location to the worksite, you may be entitled to earn pay for this time.

Education and Training

Generally, if your employer requires you to attend a lecture, meeting, or training session, it must pay you for that time, including the time you spend traveling to an off-site event.

Meal and Rest Breaks

Many states have laws that require employers to provide meal and/or rest breaks. These laws specify the minimum time that must be allowed and whether that time must be paid. In the states that do not require that break time be paid, employees must be free of all job responsibilities during breaks. If an employee must perform any job duties during a regularly scheduled break (such as covering phones or staffing a reception area), that time must be paid.

For more information about federal wage and hour law, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, at www.dol.gov. For more information about additional protections in your state, contact your state labor department.