Fair Labor Standards Act: 24-Hour Duty Sleep Time
Well-rested employees are usually productive employees, so it stands to reason that employers want their workers to get adequate sleep even when they're on duty. The Fair Labor Standards Act mostly addresses issues such as child labor, overtime and the minimum wage, but it also sets rules for when employees can sleep on the job – and when you have to pay them if they do.
The Fair Labor Standards Act does not affect all employers. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you may be exempt from the FLSA rules and requirements. With a few exceptions, the rules apply to businesses with gross annual sales or revenues of $500,000 or more. If you own more than one business or operation, this threshold applies to your aggregate or total annual revenues from all sources. For example, if one of your operations earns only $100,000, those employees are still covered if your overall revenues meet the FLSA threshold. In addition to the $500,000 rule, your business must be involved in interstate sales or services. If you don't meet both criteria, you're usually exempt unless your operation is a nursing home, school or hospital.
If your business requires that your workers be available for service for long periods of time, the FLSA rules regarding sleep apply. If your employee works a shift that totals less than 24 hours, and you agree that he may sleep for a portion of this time, you must pay him for this sleep time. If your employee works a shift longer than 24 hours, you don't necessarily have to pay him for sleeping if you come to an agreement with him that covers this. For your part, if you want to avoid paying him for his sleep time, you must provide a comfortable place to sleep, and he must typically be able to enjoy an uninterrupted period of sleep -- up to a maximum of 8 hours' sleep time. If the sleeping period is 5 hours or less, you may not exclude it from his pay.
When sleep-time rules intersect with the FLSA rules for on-call hours, the on-call rules usually prevail. It doesn't matter what your employee is doing when he's on-call because his time during these periods is devoted to being ready to serve your business. Therefore, he's entitled to be paid for them. On-call rules generally apply to hours your employee spends at your place of business. If you require your employee to be on the premises, he's working, even if he's sleeping or watching television in the break room. On-call time spent off premises is not usually covered, even if your worker must drop everything and report to work if you call him. When he reports, he's entitled to compensation.
The FLSA treats waiting time much as it does on-call hours. If your employee is at your disposal, waiting for an assignment, you must pay him for these hours, regardless of what he actually does during this time. If he puts his head down on his desk for a brief nap, it's understood that he must rouse again when you require his services. If you have a place where he can recline for a while until you need him, the same applies. These rules generally pertain to shifts averaging eight hours or so. Sleep-time rules apply if the nature of your business is such that you require your employee to remain on the premises for unusually long shifts.