Is it legal to require your employees to work unpaid?

UPDATED: Dec 28, 2011

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Is it legal to require your employees to work unpaid?

I am a flight attendant and am curious to know how the laws work. We are required to be at work an hour before a flight (unpaid). We have to be there or we get in trouble. We are required to board the aircraft, greet passengers, help with bags and any other issues that may arise (unpaid). We only start getting paid once the aircraft is fully boarded and the door is close and the breaks are released. We also stop getting paid once we land and the airplane door is opened again, however we must remain on the plane till all passengers have gotten off and are required to clean the plane unpaid. If there are delays, which may sometimes be hours, we are required to stay in the airport and wait till they are ready with a flight (because we are “on duty”) and don’t get paid. An example : Report at 7 am to do our crew briefing fly 3 flights which equal 8 hours of “flight time” of which we get paid but after everything, in between flights, briefings, a delay, cleaning we actually worked 15 hours.

Asked on December 28, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The key issue is whether you are hourly or salaried staff. If you are hourly, you must be paid for all  hours worked--and work includes briefings, meetings, greetings, setting up, cleaning up, etc. (Basically, if you are at the work site at the employer's behest, it's work.) Hourly staff would also be paid overtime if/when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

If you are salaried, you are paid a weekly salary for all work that you do, whether it's productive time or unproductive, nominally "paid" or "unpaid"--the salary covers  it all. (Though note: it is possible for a salaried employee to still be eligible for overtime when he/she works more than 40 hours in a week; to be exempt from overtime, not only must you be paid on a salary basis, but you also must meet one or more the tests for an exemption,  such as being executive staff, certain kinds of administrative staff, a highly educated  professional, etc.--you can find the tests for overtime exemption at the Department of Labor, or DOL, website.)

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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