When you are a non-exempt employee, your employer is required to pay you for any work you perform, including that which you do outside your normal working hours. However, many employers skirt the rules and have creative ways to make employees work for free, sometimes without the employee knowing that the employer’s behavior is wrong.
Though you may be concerned about being a team player or feel you're being loyal to the company when you do this extra work, your employer can get in a lot of trouble and owe you back wages. Here are some ways that employers try to get employees to work for free.
Non-Exempt Versus Exempt Employees
First, it's important to know that most of the laws protecting workers from being forced to work for free apply only to certain employees. All non-exempt employees, as well as some exempt employees meeting certain requirements, are required to be compensated for all work performed. An employer doesn't have a say in who can be exempt and who is not, as there are specific definitions.
Most people fall under the non-exempt category and are paid for every hour they work. Non-exempt employees are also subject to overtime and holiday pay laws. However, this does not include independent contractors who charge a client on an hourly basis, as they are not considered employees and fall under different rules.
Exempt employees are also known as “salaried” employees and don't work a set number of hours. They are expected to work more than the normal work week without extra compensation. Common examples include certain white-collar managerial jobs as well as a few retail and service jobs. Most of the time, salaried employees have specific contracts spelling out the terms and expectations involved.
Ways Employers Trick Employees to Work for Free
It is not always obvious when employers are required to compensate you for working without pay. Even if you do it voluntarily, your boss may still owe you back pay. Here are some examples of some of the things your employer should be paying for but may not be.
Your employer can't make you come in early to set up shop or prepare the work site without compensating you. All preparation time, including preparing vehicles or arranging products, must be compensated.
Cleaning or Finishing Up
Just like your employer can't make you prepare the workplace without pay, they also can't make you stay over to clean up or put things away without compensation. Cleanup time includes time spent after work finishing up with customers or closing the business.
Working or Being Interrupted During Your Breaks
Your lunch break is considered your own personal time, and if you are interrupted or pulled off your break for an emergency, then you must be compensated. Even if you voluntarily work through your lunch in order to complete your day's work, your employer will still need to compensate you.
Meetings/Training Outside of Normal Work Time
Any meetings outside of your normal work hours must be compensated even if a meeting is to discipline you. The same goes for any training or administrative work related to the job.
Time Between Assignments
If you are an hourly employee, then you must be compensated even when you're not busy or are waiting for more work. Your employer cannot stop the clock each time you run out of work.
Doing Reworks Without Compensation
You cannot be forced to fix or redo your work without being paid for the time, even if the mistakes were your fault.
Many employers offer extra paid time off or extended breaks as compensation for working extra hours. This, however, is illegal in most circumstances. Generally speaking, compensation must be monetary.
If you think your employer is taking advantage of you by making you work without pay, then contact the Law Office of Fernando Hidalgo for a consultation.