One of my clients has an employee who is requesting compensation for time spent enrolling in benefits using his/her personal time. The employees have limited access to computers since they work in a production area. The employer will have a computer set up for employees to use during the week of open enrollment. However, employees still have the option to enroll at home.
Here is your answer from the experts at HR.BLR.com:
This is an interesting question. The answer depends on whether the time spent enrolling in benefits would be considered work time.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that a minimum wage be paid for all hours an employee is “suffered or permitted” to work and that an overtime wage be paid for all hours “worked” over 40 in a week. Generally speaking, work time includes all time that employees spend engaged in the principal activities that they are employed to perform.
Hours worked also includes waiting time, travel time, other than time spent commuting to and from the employee’s regular place of work; breaks or meal periods that are less than 20 minutes long; and time the employee is required to spend in training, at seminars, or in meetings.
Hours worked for purposes of the FLSA do not include waiting time, time spent on call, or time when an employee is required to carry a pager or cell phone, provided the employee is otherwise free to effectively use the time for his or her own personal purposes. The FLSA does not obligate employers to pay employees for holidays, vacation, or sick days.
While the FLSA does not specifically address time an employee spends enrolling in employer-sponsored benefits, this activity does not seem to meet the definition of work time defined by the law. It would be difficult to argue that enrolling in benefits offered to the employee would be time spent “engaged in the principal activities for which the employee was employed to perform.”
That being said, if an employee takes a short break during work hours (less than 20 minutes) to enroll in benefits during work time, the employer would likely have to compensate the employee. If the break was unauthorized or exceed allotted breaks for the day, the employer could discipline the employee, but because the break was less than 20 minutes, payment would likely be required.
An employer could inform employees that while the computer is available at the office, employees are expected to review materials and enroll in benefits outside of work hours. If, however, exempt employees and those with computers are able to enroll during work hours, the employer may want to be consistent about the policy.