Sleep breakSeems simple enough, right? Not so fast! In Minnesota, “hours worked” is generally defined as “training time, call time, cleaning time, waiting time, or any other time when the employee must either be on the premises of the employer or involved in the performance of duties in connection with his or her employment or must remain on the premises until work is prepared or available.”  Minn. Rule 5200.0120. As always, this definition is not entirely helpful. For example, does “training time” include seminars that the employee wants to go to outside of normal work hours, or a free seminar during work hours? What about non-mandatory training opportunities? As is frequently the case – it depends, and often depends on the facts. However, a few general rules of thumb follows:

Rest & Meal Breaks 

Employees who work 4  consecutive hours must be provided time to use the nearest restroom. Rest breaks of less than 20 minutes are counted as “hours worked”. Employees who work at least 8 consecutive hours must be provided a meal break (sufficient time to eat a meal). Meal breaks are not counted as hours worked – but should “generally” be 30 minutes or more (so says the State), so the employee is “completely relieved from duty” to eat. Minor interruptions in meal time is okay, but frequent interruptions would convert this to paid work time. Thus, it is a good idea to require employees to step away from their workstation during meal times. Fun fact – there is no mandatory “smoke break” – employees have no right to a smoke break, but certainly they may chose to use their meal break or other provided rest break for such a purpose.

On-Call Time

Under Minnesota law, employees who must remain on premises or so close that they cannot use time “effectively” for personal purposes, must be paid for on-call time. Employees on-call away from work are not working, unless called to work. There is, of course, much more to this (for example, paramedics who may work 24 hour shifts are not always “working” during the 24 hours shift), but for purposes of this quick overview, that’s the general rule – whether the employee is “engaged to wait” (paid) or “waiting to be engaged” (unpaid).

Sleep Time

If an employee is scheduled for less than 24 hours per day, sleep time (with some exceptions – see below) is work time, even if you allow them to sleep. Minn. Rule 5200.0121. Employees scheduled 24 hours or more do not need to be paid for meals and a sleeping period (less than 8 hours), so long as there are adequate sleeping facilities and the employee can usually get at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. However, it is critical that there is an understanding/agreement (doesn’t have to be in writing – but very good practice). Work performed during the sleep time must be compensated and if the sleep time is interrupted so the employee cannot get at least 5 hours of sleep, the entire period is work time.

On-Site Employees

Here is one of the exceptions to the above sleep time rule. Caretakers, managers and other on-site employees of residential buildings, whose principal place of residence is the residential building, and who receive the residence as full or partial compensation for duties performed, must be paid for time spent on duties, but no other time. Minn. Stat. 177.23, Subd. 10.

Companionship Service

Another exception to the above sleep time – employees who provide companionship services (29 CFR 552.6 and 552.106) to individuals unable to care for their own needs, who are employed to stay overnight in the home with the individual(s), and who are paid at least minimum wage for 4 hours for the overnight stay. For those, the term “hours” worked does not include nighttime hours of 10 pm to 9 am – for a total of 8 hours per night, during which the employee is able to perform duties, but is not in fact performing such duties and can sleep or do other things in the home.  Minn. Stat. 177.23, Sub. 11.

As always, the law is not super clear, and there is certainly case law and other guidance to support any one situation. The exceptions to the rule almost always overshadow the rule in wage and hour law. For example, there is a plethora of guidance about paramedics, EMT’s and other first responders, and of course, on-call time is particularly contentious. When in doubt, as I always say, dig deeper!