Employment Counseling and Litigation

New DOL Opinions — Health Breaks and Travel Time

On April 12, the U.S. Department of Labor issued opinion letters addressing two important topics:  compensation for brief health-related breaks and compensation for certain travel time.

Non-exempt employees on breaks of 20 minutes or less normally are entitled to stay on the clock and be paid for the short duration that they are not working. At the same time, employees recovering from a serious health condition (which remember may not be so serious) may require periodic breaks from work based on orders of a treating healthcare provider.  Such breaks generally will be required under the Family and Medical Leave Act and often are also required as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act even when the employee is not FMLA eligible.

The first opinion letter addresses employee health-related breaks in particular.  The DOL determined that employees are not entitled to compensation for health-required breaks for two reasons:  First, the FMLA states that protected breaks can be unpaid.

Second, the Supreme Court has said that employers must compensate employees for short breaks that benefit the employer, such as a 15-minute rest break that helps re-energize the employee.  But breaks that are required because of an employee’s serious health condition alone benefit the employee only, not the employer.  So, while there is nothing improper with paying an employee on a health break, it is not required according to the DOL.

The second opinion letter on travel time compensation answered the questions of when hourly employees must be compensated for training sessions and travel time between job sites.  For travel to training sessions, the DOL said that, if the travel occurs during the employee’s normal working hours, the time is compensable.  Time spent traveling to a training session that occurs outside of normal working hours would not be compensable – although remember the training time itself will be compensable in most instances.  Time that hourly workers spend traveling between two job sites during any working hours is compensable time.

Compensation requirements, and travel time compensation questions in particular, often are complicated and very situation specific.  The decisions on travel time here may not apply in other seemingly similar situations.