Whether waiting time is compensable depends on the particular circumstances. The FLSA requires compensation for all time during which employees are required to wait while on duty or performing their principle activities. 29 C.F.R. § 785.15. This is particularly true where waiting periods are of such short duration that employees cannot use them for their own benefit.
Under the regulations (29 C.F.R. § 785.16), waiting time by an employee who has been relieved from duty need not be counted as hours worked, if:
- The employee is completely relieved from duty and allowed to leave the job; or
- The employee is relieved until a definite, specific time; and
- The relief period is long enough for the employee to use the time as he or she sees fit.
A street department employee who must wait for a vehicle to be removed from the road, a firefighter who watches television at the firehouse while waiting for alarms, and a worker who talks to fellow employees while waiting for equipment to be repaired, all are working during their periods of inactivity. The rule applies also to an employee who works away from the employer’s premises.
Employees who wait before starting their duties because they arrived at the workplace earlier than the required time are not entitled to be paid for the waiting time. However, if an employee reports at the required time and then waits because there is no work to start on, the waiting time is compensable work time. 29 C.F.R. § 790(h).
DOL has defined “off duty” as:
... period[s] during which an employee is completely relieved from duty and which are long enough to enable the employee to use the time effectively for his/her own purpose are not hours worked. The employee is not completely relieved from duty and cannot use the time effectively for his/her own purposes unless the employee is definitely told in advance that he or she may leave the job and that the employee will not have to commence work until a specified hour has arrived. 29 C.F.R. § 785.16(a).