Human Resources News & Insights

7 ‘special circumstance’ pay pitfalls – and how to handle ’em

152959916You know when non-exempt staff have to be paid for off-the-clock time or travel.

But what about these other wage and hour pitfalls?

Here are seven compensable time issues that every HR pro should know how to handle, courtesy of Grace Lee and Robert Friedman of Venable LLP.

Seminars and training

Non-exempt workers who attend a lecture, a seminar or a training program outside the office don’t have to be paid if the event meets the following criteria:

  • attendance is voluntary
  • attendance is outside the employee’s regular working hours
  • the event is not directly related to staffers’ jobs, and
  • staff members don’t perform any work during the event.

So when is training or a seminar “related to staffers’ jobs”? When it’s designed to help workers to handle their jobs more effectively.

Another hang-up: Workers who take unrequired courses or attend school after hours don’t have to be paid. That still holds true if the employer is covering part or all of the tuition.

Receptions and other social events

Happy hours, dinners, receptions – if non-exempt staffers are required to attend any of these, they have to be compensated for their time. That’s still the case even if they’re not doing any work during their time there.

The key to avoiding mistakes with these events: communication. Train managers not to pressure staff to attend events that aren’t mandatory. Otherwise, you’re on the hook for their time.

Work done while commuting

If non-exempt staff members are required to do work while getting to or returning from work – such as on a bus or train – those staffers must be paid.

Again, supervisors should be trained not to give work to employees that has to be completed outside the workplace.


Employees who travel from home to work and then back home again are engaged in ordinary home-to-work travel, and don’t need to be compensated.

Employees who travel to conferences or other events don’t need to be compensated if:

  • the staffer is a passenger on a train, car, boat or airplane
  • the travel isn’t during regular work hours, and
  • no work is performed.

Waiting time

Non-exempt employees who are waiting for an assignment must be paid if they can’t leave.

That guy playing solitaire while waiting for work? Pay him. That woman waiting for paperwork who’s reading a magazine? Pay her.

But if staffers are permitted to leave and come back in two hours, you don’t have to pay them. That’s because the employees can use their free time as they see fit.

Volunteer activities

For volunteer activities, the same principle holds true: Are employees required to be there? If workers are required to volunteer two hours at a book drive, that’s payable time – even if it’s outside work hours.

So when does volunteering actually not have to be paid? When the activity takes place outside of work hours and doesn’t involve the employee performing any work.

Time waiting for or receiving medical attention

If a worker is injured and receives medical attention at work or at the instruction of a supervisor during work hours, that employee has to be paid.

For example, if a supervisor tells an employee who isn’t feeling well to lie down for 15 minutes, you still owe them for that time.

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