Remote working seems to have taken hold in many organizations, and the Department of Labor reminds employers that federal wage and leave laws remain in force when an employee is working at home.
DOL’s Wage and Hour Division issued new Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) regarding how remote employees should be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act and when they are eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“The key takeaway from the FAB is that the rules governing when breaks must be treated as hours worked do not change just because an employee is working from home,” advise attorneys Robert Pritchard and Dimitrios Markos of the Littler Mendelson law firm.
The FAB reminds employers that federal wage law defines “hours worked” as including all time spent by an employee between their first principal activity and their last principal activity of the day,
The FLSA states that bona fide meal breaks of 30 minutes or more are not considered working time. Similarly, breaks longer than 20 minutes that permit an employee to use the time for their own purposes and during which they are completely relieved of their duties are not seen as hours worked.
In the bulletin, the DOL clarifies that some kinds of breaks are not compensable regardless of the location from which the employees perform their work. For example, if a remote employee takes a 30-minute break to cook dinner or fold laundry, that break is not compensable.
“While an employer may speculate that its teleworking employees are more likely to take a greater number of short breaks throughout the day to attend to personal matters than do their in-office colleagues, the FAB emphasizes that such short breaks still constitute hours worked,” Pritchard and Markos explain.
Also keep in mind that federal law now requires employers to provide new mothers with reasonable break time to express breast milk.