The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued guidance on the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to employees who telework from home or from another location away from the employer’s facility.
The Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2023-1, released on February 9, 2023, is directed to agency officials responsible for enforcement and provides employers a glimpse into how the DOL applies existing law and regulations to common remote-work scenarios. FAB 2023-1 addresses FLSA regulations governing “hours worked,” rules related to break time and privacy for nursing employees, and FMLA eligibility factors.
In the FAB, the DOL reviews the rules governing compensability of work time, explaining that, regardless of work location, short breaks (typically, 20 minutes or less) generally are counted as compensable hours worked, whereas, longer breaks “during which an employee is completely relieved from duty, and which are long enough to enable [the employee] to use the time effectively for [their] own purposes[,] are not hours worked.” Examples of short breaks, whether at home or in the office, include when an employee takes a bathroom or coffee break or gets up to stretch their legs.
Longer rest breaks and periods of time, when employees are completely relieved from duty and able to use the time for their own purposes, are not considered work time. Just as would be the case when an employee is working in the office, if during remote work an employee’s 30-minute lunch break is interrupted by several work-related phone calls, that 30-minute period would be counted as hours worked. Conversely, if an employee working from home takes a three-hour break to pick up their child or to perform household chores, that time does not count as work time under the FLSA. In short, the FAB reiterates the telework guidance set forth by the DOL in a Q&A series published during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAB emphasizes that, regardless of whether an employee performs duties at home, at the worksite, or at some other location, if the employer knows or has reason to believe that work is being performed, the time must be counted as hours worked. Importantly, the FAB notes that an employer may satisfy its obligation to exercise reasonable diligence to acquire knowledge regarding employees’ unscheduled hours of work by providing a reasonable reporting procedure for employees to use when they work non-scheduled time and paying employees for all hours worked. This guidance was addressed in greater detail in FAB 2020-5.
Guidelines for Nursing Employees
The FAB further clarifies that, under the FLSA, an employer’s obligation to provide employees “reasonable break time,” as well as an appropriate place to express breast milk, extends to employees who are teleworking or working at an off-site location. Just as an employer has an obligation to provide an “appropriate place” for an employee to express milk while working at a client site, the employer should ensure a teleworking employee has privacy from a “computer camera, security camera, or web conferencing platform” to express milk.
Employers are not required to pay employees for otherwise unpaid breaks simply because the employee is expressing breast milk during the break, but if an employee is working while pumping (or if the pumping occurs during an otherwise paid break), they must be paid for that time. For example, in most cases, if a remote employee attends a call or videoconference off camera while pumping, that employee would be considered on duty and must be paid for that time.
The recently enacted PUMP Act expanded existing employer obligations under the FLSA to cover exempt employees, as well as non-exempt employees. The DOL has published more guidance on breast milk pumping during work.
Eligibility Under FMLA
The DOL also addresses FMLA eligibility requirements for remote employees both in terms of hours worked (employee must work 1,250 hours in the previously 12 months) and the small worksite exception (employee must work at a worksite with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius).
As with the FLSA, it is important for employers to have a system to track their remote workers’ hours. With respect to hours worked, the FAB reiterates that the 1,250 hours determination for remote worker is based on compensable hours of work under FLSA principles.
With respect to the worksite size determination, the FMLA regulations explain that an employee’s personal residence is not a worksite. Instead, whether a remote employee is FMLA-eligible is based on the size of the worksite from which “they report to” or “their assignments are made.” If a remote employee reports into or receives assignments from a site with 50 or more employees working at that site (or reporting to or receiving assignments from that site) or within 75 miles, then that employee would meet that eligibility factor.
The DOL provided two examples of this rule:
Employers are reminded to review state and local wage and hour laws, paid and unpaid leave laws, and lactation accommodation laws. If you have any questions about applying the FLSA, the FMLA, or state and local laws to your remote workers or any other questions about remote work considerations, please reach out to any Jackson Lewis attorney.