The little things employees do while they’re getting ready for work—putting on safety gear, firing up their computers, standing in line to get equipment—can sometimes be considered paid work time. And if a government agency or court figures that out, it can add up to a big overtime bill.
That’s because courts often see such “preparatory work” as compensable, even if it benefits the employee, too. Consider this recent case involving making the morning coffee and breakfast before the start of a shift.
Recent case: Jarrod Tomassi worked as a probationary firefighter in Los Angeles. His supervisor required him to show up a half hour before his official shift to set up for the day.
One of his main preliminary tasks was making coffee for the firehouse and preparing a breakfast of scrambled eggs to go with the brew for everyone at the station.
Tomassi wasn’t paid for the time, so he sued the city on behalf of himself and other probationary firefighters. The city argued that making breakfast benefited only the firefighters and not the fire department itself.
The court didn’t buy that argument. It said that, because the probationary firefighters were told to show up and get the firehouse ready for the rest of the firefighters, their work benefited the employer, which would have had to hire cooks to do the work if the new firefighters didn’t make breakfast. (Tomassi, et al., v. City of Los Angeles, No. 08-1851, CD CA, 2010)
Final note: Remember, just about anything an employee does that benefits the employer must be considered “paid time.” There are very few exceptions and the courts have recently gotten tougher on such cases. If an employee stays late or arrives early to do extra work, you’re obligated to pay for that work even if you didn’t request or require it.
Online resource: For official guidance on wage-and-hour issues, visit www.dol.gov/elaws/. .htm