woman checking her watch at desk

Ask the Attorney: Is Being at Our Desks 15 Minutes Early Considered Overtime?

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

Federal and state laws regarding wages and hours can be complicated, and you may be wondering what’s expected of you or whether you are being taken advantage of. Some employers abuse their authority by mandating that their employees spend more time at work than their contracts specify, without compensating them with overtime pay. 

In one case, an employer might require employees to be at their desks 15 minutes before 9 a.m. in order to ensure that they are “ready to go” when the workday actually starts. But if you’re at work, isn’t that part of the workday?

This is a common question among those who begin work full-time at the beginning of the day, such as retail workers, food service workers, and medical office personnel. 

Workplace Fringe Benefits

In addition to agreed-upon, standard compensation, many employers also offer their employees fringe benefits. Fringe benefits function as bonuses to whatever the employee is already receiving. 

These bonuses include health insurance, workers’ compensation, and retirement plans. Many organizations offer each of their employees fringe benefits, while others only offer benefits to higher-ranked employees. 

Some fringe benefits, like commuter costs, equipment costs, and lunch stipends, are meant to take care of job-related expenses. Other fringe benefits, like signing bonuses, vacation time, and paid time off, are designed to recruit and retain potential and current employees. 

The idea is that employees are more productive when their employer is compensating them well. Other common fringe benefits include overtime pay, weekend pay, and holiday pay. 

Overtime Pay Rules

The New Jersey State Wage and Hour Law dictates a minimum wage rate and minimum overtime rate. The State of New Jersey requires the payment of time and one half per hour for any hours worked past 40 hours a week. 

This means that if an employee works 50 hours in one week, they will receive compensation for time and a half of 10 of those hours, according to overtime pay rules. If their hourly wage is $10, they will receive $15 per hour for each overtime hour worked. 

Suppose that you get paid an hourly wage, and you work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an unpaid lunch, five days a week. That’s 40 hours per week. Then, your employer tells you that you’re now required to be in the workplace fifteen minutes before 9 a.m. in order to make sure you’re ready to work. 

If this applies to you, you may be wondering, “Am I eligible for overtime pay?”

Do those 15 minutes count as overtime?

As an hourly worker, it’s likely that you clock in and clock out. Legally, your employer must compensate you with overtime pay for every single minute worked past 40 hours a week. Your overtime hours should be reflected in your employer’s payment system, and that includes any additional minutes you are requested to be at work.  

It’s much more difficult to track overtime for salaried employees than it is for hourly workers. However, the law establishes that salaried employees who make $35,568 or less per year must receive time and a half for all hours worked beyond 40 hours. 

An Employment Attorney Can Ensure You Are Paid Properly

No one works for free, and you don’t have to, either. You’re entitled to fair, lawful compensation for all hours you’ve worked. If you believe that your employer may be failing to adequately compensate you for each hour of work, it’s essential that you consult with an employment attorney immediately. 

At NJ Employment Lawyers, we can determine your legal options and help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Schedule your free consultation with us today. 

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.