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How Are Compensable Work Hours and Overtime Defined in Texas?

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees overtime pay for employees, claims of unpaid overtime are relatively common in Texas. In fact, each year millions of dollars are paid to employees to resolve unpaid overtime lawsuits.

Here let's discuss some important aspects of the law that employers and employees should understand.

What are the basic provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act?

The Fair Labor Standards Act -- often called the FLSA -- is the federal law that establishes standards for overtime pay. Under the law, non-exempt employees must be paid at least 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40 in a workweek.

For example, if your pay rate is $10 an hour, then your overtime rate would be at least $15 an hour.

As we discussed in a previous post, a new rule change broadened the number of employees covered by the FLSA to include more salaried employees.

The amount of time a person is on the job may seem like an easy thing to determine, but often the question of how work time is defined is at the center of unpaid overtime disputes.

So what constitutes compensable work time under the FLSA?

In general, work hours include time when an employee is required to be on the job site or on duty. Work time may also include overtime work that the employer did not request, but which the employee was permitted to voluntarily do. For example, if an employee continued working beyond regular shift hours in order to complete an assigned task, then the extra hours are considered compensable work time.

Depending on the circumstances, rest breaks, travel time, waiting time and being on call may all constitute compensable work hours.

  • Rest Breaks: Many Texas employers allow rest periods of 20 minutes or less, and typically these breaks are counted as compensable work time. However, any extension of an established break period may not be counted as work hours if the employer has said that a break should not last longer than a specific time frame. Meal breaks are generally not counted as work hours, unless the employee is required to do work-related duties while eating.
  • Travel Time: Whether or not travel time is considered compensable work time depends on the type of travel. For example, an everyday home-to-work commute is typically not counted as work time. However, if the travel is part of the employee's principle work activity, such as driving from one job site to another, then the travel is counted as compensable work hours. Another example of compensable travel time is when an employee makes a work-related trip to another city and returns home the same day. The travel time to and from the other city may be counted as hours worked.
  • Waiting Time: An employee's waiting time may be considered work time if the employee has been "engaged to wait." For example, if you have a conversation with a co-worker while you wait for your work computer to be repaired, then you have been "engaged to wait," and that waiting time is usually compensable. On the other hand, "waiting to be engaged" is not considered work time, and the distinction between "engaged to wait" and "waiting to be engaged" is often the subject of wage and hour disputes.
  • On-Call Hours: In most cases, being on call at home is not regarded as compensable work time, but being on call on the employer's premises is. There may be specific circumstances, though, when an employee's being on call at home constrains the employee's freedom in such a way that the on-call time at home is compensable.

At The Galo Law Firm in San Antonio, we represent employees in wage and hour disputes with employers, including disputes over unpaid overtime and workplace retaliation claims. Because we have served clients on both sides of these disputes, we are especially prepared to anticipate the other side's strategy and take action quickly to protect our clients' rights.

For more on resolving FLSA and other employment law disputes in Texas, please see our wage and hour overview.

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