During the recent natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey, many workers were physically stuck at their work location, unable to leave. Whether their hours at work are compensable may depend on several factors.
At a bakery in Houston, an overnight shift baker found himself stranded in the bakery due to hurricane conditions after his shift was over. Concerned for his family’s safety but helpless to act on their behalf, he used his stranded time at the store to bake. In fact, he engaged in his trade to the extent that the City of Houston was able to use the baked goods to feed the community's needy during the days immediately after the hurricane. But what about receiving pay for those hours on the job?
Actively working employees may have the right to pay while stranded
Wage and hour laws dictate that nonexempt workers receive pay for time on the job if their employer permits them to work, even if not expressly asked to do so. Arguably, if the worker who gets stuck at work engages in activities that benefit the employer and that would otherwise be compensable, that worker may have a right to pay for that work effort. However, that may not apply to people staying on the premises for their own protection, who are not engaging in any work-related activities.
Exempt workers have less chance of pay for work while stranded
The issue may also result in a different answer when it comes to exempt employees versus nonexempt employees. Some salaried employees’ right to pay may be more limited than hourly employees.
Exempt employees get a flat salary per week regardless of hours worked. If they work 30 hours one week and 52 another week, they receive the same pay. This means they are exempt from receiving the mandatory overtime wages amount for any hours over 40 in the week that hourly workers receive. Such employees may have less right to compensation when stuck at their workplace, regardless of the work they may do there.