Actual productive labor is what a manufacturer may think is “work”.  No work, no pay.  However, courts have interpreted federal and state wage and hour laws much more broadly.   

In general, a “workday” means the period between the time on any particular day when such employee commences his/her “principal activity” and the time on that day at which he/she ceases such principal activity or activities. The workday may therefore be longer than the employee’s scheduled shift or production line time.  This may appear to be straightforward, but employers continue to get trapped up.

For example, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently clarified the question of compensable work time and relied on federal law to determine whether an employee should be paid when he travels from home to work.  In Sarrazin v. Coastal, Inc., the Court held that an employer was not required to pay an employee for carrying company tools in a company vehicle during his daily commute to his jobsite and home.  Any time spent after hours picking up tools or equipment from the company’s warehouse was considered compensable and the employee was entitled to overtime pay.     

In Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court held that donning and doffing work gear may be compensable and require overtime.  However, the Court clarified that employers need to ask whether the time period at issue can, on the whole, be fairly characterized as “time spent in changing clothes or washing.”  If an employee devotes the vast majority of that time to putting on and off equipment or other non-clothes items, the entire period would not qualify as “time spent in changing clothes” pursuant to federal law, even if some clothes items were also donned and doffed. 

Finally, a wave of claims have been brought  by employees alleging that they haven’t been paid for “off the clock” duties such as logging into computer systems and responding to email and text messages after work hours and on weekends.  “Off the clock” time spent oiling, greasing, cleaning or installing machines at the start or end of the workday may also be considered compensable time.

Manufacturers may wish to consider an audit to review their pay policies in these and other areas, including employee time spent on training, business trips, sleeping, on-call hours, and per diem reimbursements calculated on an hourly basis (included in this analysis may be reimbursement for expenses that the employees would normally incur for their own benefit).  More information may be found in this U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet.