Today, remote work is more common than ever before, with much of explosion coming in the last 2-3 years. With that vast growth of people working from home comes new and different ways that employers can run afoul of federal wage and hour laws. If you’re a non-exempt employee working from home and your employer has denied you the leave, breaks, or other benefits that federal law mandates, check with a knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyer to find out how best to protect yourself.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued an important new “field assistance bulletin” document discussing this cutting-edge issue implicating the Fair Labor Standards Act, break rules, and remote workers who are non-exempt employees.
Field assistance bulletins are documents that lack the force of a statute or a regulation, but they do represent important reflections of Labor Department policy and the federal government’s view on the correct interpretation of various laws and/or regulations.
The document noted that, in general, the federal regulations consider short breaks to be compensable time for non-exempt employees. Federal regulations define a “short” break as one lasting 20 minutes or less. That can include anything from a bathroom break to grabbing a drink to stretching one’s legs.
The same rules that apply to traditional workers also apply to people who work from home. An “employer must treat such [short] 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.”
Longer breaks – namely, meal breaks – potentially do not count as “worktime.” To qualify as non-worktime, the break must last longer than 20 minutes and must be something where the employer “permit[s] the employee to use the time effectively for their own purposes and during which the employee is completely relieved from duty.”
To meet the standard of “completely relieved of duty,” the employee generally must do no work. So, if a worker takes what is supposed to be a lunch break from 1:00-1:30 but is interrupted multiple times requiring her to attend to work-related matters, then the worker was not “completely relieved of duty” during that half-hour, so it doesn’t qualify as a meal break, and does count as compensable time.
The FLSA and Breaks for Nursing Mothers Who Work from Home
Federal law says that a nursing mother who needs to express milk must be allowed to do so in a place (other than a bathroom) where they are hidden from view and “free from intrusion.” That applies to employees working at an employer-controlled facility, a client site, or from home. Obviously, home-based workers generally will be able to select the place where they pump milk. However, some employers may also require teleworkers to be “online” via a computer system and webcam, a security camera, or a web conferencing platform like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Federal law requires that a pumping mother be allowed to express milk shielded from the view of an employer’s video feed while pumping.
Jobs – and job sites – are evolving quickly here in the 2020s. These changes can open doors to new ways for you to be denied the compensation the law says you’re owed. The skilled Atlanta wage and hour attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert have spent decades helping workers to protect their rights, and also helping employers to ensure their pay practices are fully compliant with the law. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation and find out how we can help you.