Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) About Work Time and Personal Time

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations that govern which employees may be considered as non-exempt (eligible for overtime pay) or exempt (not eligible for overtime pay). It is important that nonexempt employees and their supervisors understand what is and is not work time, as well as, how to keep and report time records.

  1. Are there going to be changes to my work schedule or routine as a nonexempt employee?
  2. What happens if my break exceeds the allotted time, or if a business conversation turns personal on ‘work time’?
  3. If there are holidays or I have paid leave, does that time off count as ‘work time’ for purposes of calculating overtime?
  4. So in a week with leave time, how is time counted to determine if there is paid overtime?
  5. What about when I am required to work on holidays or days when the University is closed? Are those days overtime? Will I lose the paid holiday?
  6. If my normal work schedule is 35 hours a week, and I work extra to total 38 hours in the week, will I get comp time or overtime for those extra hours? And if so, do I need to take it in the same week or the same two-week payroll period?
  7. How do I count my time if I am sick, take a sick day, but end up working from home?
  8. If I take a class using my tuition benefit and I am a nonexempt employee, how do I count the time? Can I call that class time, lunch?
  9. My position requires me to be ‘on-call.’ Is the time I spend on-call work time or not?
  10. I sometimes have to travel as part of my job – to GPS offices and to meetings and conferences. How much of that time is work time?
  11. What about the time that I spend attending the conference?
  12. What if I am in a nonexempt position and working on a big project; but I lose track of time and end up working more than 40 hours in the week. Will I be in trouble?

WQ1: Are there going to be changes to my work schedule or routine as a nonexempt employee?

WA1: Yes, there will be some small changes. We will all need to be more mindful of how we spend our time. A nonexempt employee must have a lunch break free from work and may not work through lunch. If you are nonexempt, this is good news: you must be allowed to have your personal time in the middle of the day to enjoy lunch, run errands, meet your friends and family, or however you choose to use it. You must have at least 30 minutes in the middle of your day that is free from work to have your lunch. If you work for any part of your lunch break, you must report it as work time. We all need to respect lunch breaks as personal time and not interrupt it “for just a minute” or “a quick question.” Lunch breaks are not paid work time.

You are entitled to two short 10- minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon each business day. These breaks are included in your ‘work time’ and are paid.

Nonexempt employees should not come in early, work late, or work remotely from home during non-scheduled work hours if doing so will put them at or above 40 work hours in a week (unless they receive prior approval). If you do work from home, you must track and include that time on your timesheet as paid work time.

WQ2: What happens if my break exceeds the allotted time, or if a business conversation turns personal on ‘work time’?

WA2: Averett desires to maintain our collegial relationships as well as being good stewards of our budget and financial resources. The balance of these interests can be challenging. It is not our intent to ‘clock’ breaks; we have operated on a basis of trust and respect and plan to continue.

Under the guidelines from DOL, ‘longer breaks’ are not work time, so if your 10-minute break turns into a 30-minute break, honor the trust and do not include it as work time on your timesheet. You can take a shorter lunch break or talk to your supervisor about making up the time at the end of the day to assure to get your full work time in for the day. We ask that everyone be mindful of the need to contribute to help us reach our goals. If you experience special circumstances, issues, or challenges, discuss options with your supervisor.

If employees repeatedly or consistently put in less work time than required on a daily basis, it creates a burden on our colleagues as we try to complete work and projects. Communicating and keeping your supervisor informed about your work status and break and lunch schedules will help avoid misunderstandings and unpleasant situations. Being more intentional about how we spend our time and reminding each other that we are here to work and achieve certain goals and outcomes is part of being accountable.

WQ3: If there are holidays or I have paid leave, does that time off count as ‘work time’ for purposes of calculating overtime?

WA3: No, work time is limited to time that you spend working on the job. Paid leave is not work time, it is leave time. Leave time includes:

  • Vacation hours
  • Sick leave
  • Volunteer service leave
  • Holidays
  • Personal day
  • Time off for summer hours
  • Unpaid leave, such as might be used if you are on medical leave.

WQ4: So in a week with leave time, how is time counted to determine if there is paid overtime?

WA4: Let’s use the week of Thanksgiving as an example. The University has scheduled work days Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of that week with Thursday and Friday as holidays. So if you are nonexempt and work longer days the first part of the week to make sure those necessary projects are completed, your schedule that week may be:

  • Monday: 9 hours work time
  • Tuesday: 9 hours work time
  • Wednesday: 7 hours work time
  • Thursday: 8 hours holiday time
  • Friday: 8 hours holiday time

In this example, you would have 25 hours work time and 16 hours holiday time for total time of 41 hours. But, there is no overtime because the work time is less than the 40 hour threshold.

WQ5: What about when I am required to work on holidays or days when the University is closed? Are those days overtime? Will I lose the paid holiday?

WA5: Those are good questions.   Working on a holiday or when the University is closed is not overtime. There are instances when some employees need to work on a holiday. When that happens, you do not lose the holiday time. You report the time worked as work time. Then, the missed holiday is holiday time that you take later – either in the same week or up to 30 days after the holiday. Just be sure you discuss the arrangement with your supervisor when scheduling the holiday work and when you plan to take the holiday.

Days that the University is closed, other than holidays, such as when Averett is closed because of severe weather or for summer hours, are similar. As a general rule, nonexempt employees should not be asked to work on ‘snow’ days or when the University is closed. However, if there are special circumstances in which the employee is needed or a major project or task is due and cannot be delayed without serious consequences, it may be necessary for some nonexempt employees to work. In those cases, the time worked is reported as work time and the employee is entitled to take the time off later. Just like with holiday time, it is best if the time can be taken within the same week, but if not, within 30 days.

WQ6: If my normal work schedule is 35 hours a week, and I work extra to total 38 hours in the week, will I get comp time or overtime for those extra hours? And if so, do I need to take it in the same week or the same two-week payroll period?

WA6: Because Averett pays for a 40 hour work week even though we normally only schedule 35 hours of work. So when an employee works more than 35 but not more than 40 hours in a week, all the time is counted as regular work time.

Comp time is a specific term and is legally available only to public employees (people who work for government entities such as state or federal government and state universities). Averett does not offer comp time. What we do is to empower supervisors to use flexible work schedules so that employees can work when they are needed to complete projects or meet deadlines. Flex time means that if an employee works long hours on some days, the supervisor can offset those hours later in the same week by giving the employee time off so that the total work time in that week does not exceed 40 hours.   Or, if you know you’ll need to work on a Saturday, discuss the possibility of flexing your week’s schedule with your supervisor so that you take some time off earlier in the week, saving your work hours for when you need them later in the week.

But even with flexible scheduling, the time is counted all within the same week since the goal is to keep the total work hours at or below 40 in one week (measured as Sunday through Saturday). Adjustments to schedules cannot be offset in different weeks, even in the same 2-week pay period.

WQ7: How do I count my time if I am sick, take a sick day, but end up working from home?

WA7: Sick leave is provided to employees so that if you are ill, you do not share that illness with your coworkers or students; and so you can rest or take the steps you need to regain your health. If you are too sick to work, you should not be working at home and should not be asked to do so.

However, let’s say that you are ill and call your supervisor to report that you are too ill to come to work. You then visit the doctor and are given medicine. Later in the afternoon, you are feeling much better and let your supervisor know that you are recovering and expect to return to work the next day. In the meantime, you offer to answer the day’s emails from home so that you won’t have full inbox the next morning. You proceed to spend an hour reading and answering emails. You would count one hour work time and seven hours sick leave (remember when you take leave time, a day is counted as 8 hours).

WQ8: If I take a class using my tuition benefit and I am a nonexempt employee, how do I count the time? Can I call that class time, lunch?

WA8: Yes, your one hour lunch break is not work time and how you spend your personal time is up to you. So on those days you may choose to spend your lunch break in class. Be sure to discuss your schedule with your supervisor before committing to a class schedule. Classes that are offered two days a week (and thus run longer) may require additional adjustment to your work schedule so work with your supervisor to work out a satisfactory plan.

WQ9: My position requires me to be ‘on-call.’ Is the time I spend on-call work time or not?

WA9: The rules regarding ‘on-call’ distinguish between call-time that requires someone to remain on campus or so close to campus that the person cannot use the time effectively for their own purposes and call-time that allows the person to leave the premises and engage in personal activities so long as they are accessible by telephone and remains within a certain number of miles of campus. The range of freedom must be sufficient to allow them to engage in normal activities such as shopping, going out to eat, watching a movie, and so forth.

If you are on call and required to remain on campus or very close to it, then all of the time you are ‘on-call’ is considered work time. The official phrase is that you were ‘engaged to wait” for the call. So even though most on-call time is spent doing other activities (reading, working out, gaming, etc.) until a call actually arises, it would still be work time because of the restrictions.

However, if while on call, you are free to go where you need to go as long as you can be reached by cell phone and can be back on campus within 30 minutes, the determination of work time is different. The time you spend gaming, eating, shopping, reading, and other personal activities is not work time; is not paid time; and does not count towards the 40-hour workweek or overtime. It is considered time you spend ‘waiting to be engaged.’ The time that you spend actually answering a call, responding to the situation, and following up, however, IS work time and should be reported as such.

WQ10: I sometimes have to travel as part of my job – to GPS offices and to meetings and conferences. How much of that time is work time?

WA10: Travel time has some pretty complicated rules around whether or not it is work time. We have a separate set of “FAQs” detailing the ins and outs of travel time that you can review in detail. The general rule is that if you travel during your normally scheduled work hours, that travel time is work time. If you travel on your personal time as a passenger (bus, airline, train, or riding in a car), the travel time is NOT work except for any periods that you spend actually performing work (reading, writing, calling).

WQ11: What about the time that I spend attending the conference?

WA11: Time that you spend in meetings or at conferences as a representative of Averett, is clearly work time. If you are at a conference that runs for several days, you are ‘working’ only the hours that you are attending conference sessions, meeting in your official capacity, and checking email or performing Averett work. Any time that you spend relaxing, socializing, or other personal activities is not work time. Again, see the separate FAQ on travel time for the specific details of what time is considered work time and what is not. The FAQ on travel time includes a detailed example that should help you know how to count your time at conferences. 

WQ12: What if I am in a nonexempt position and working on a big project; but I lose track of time and end up working more than 40 hours in the week. Will I be in trouble?

WA12: Averett requires pre-approval for overtime and, as mentioned above. Employees will need to be mindful of the time they work, as well as they time they spend on personal tasks. If you realize that you are approaching 40 hours and need to work overtime, please consult with your supervisor right away. Your supervisor may be able to provide additional help to minimize the risk of overtime, negotiate a longer timeframe to complete the project, or provide authorization for sufficient overtime to enable you to meet the deadline. If you work overtime without authorization, you risk disciplinary action, and put your supervisor in an awkward position that may lead to disciplinary action as well.

It is not anyone’s desire to discipline any employee. Unplanned and unmanaged overtime leads to overspending on budgets. That situation is one the University would like to avoid. If an employee has an inadvertent ‘oops’ that leads to a couple of hours of overtime there will be a conversation with a supervisor about procedures. But if there is a pattern of unapproved overtime, more serious consequences are likely.

Avoid problems by keeping your supervisor informed of progress on projects, challenges, and the need for assistance to meet deadlines. Be more intentional about your work time and only report time that you actually spent working or time included in work time such as short morning or afternoon breaks. The old adage, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” will not work with overtime.  Department managers are held financially responsible for their budget allocations; do not compromise their budgets without their knowledge or permission.