If a postal worker is responsible for a mail truck...

If a postal worker is responsible for a mail truck and its contents during his lunch break, he should be paid for that time, a labor expert said. Credit: Getty Images/Captainflash

DEAR CARRIE: I work for the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier. We receive 35 minutes of unpaid lunch time.  During this time of nonpayment, we are still responsible for the security of the mail in the postal vehicle, even if that means staying with the truck. If I am responsible for the mail, shouldn't I be paid for that time?  -- Feeling Robbed

DEAR FEELING:  Yes, you should, said Irv Miljoner, the former head of the Long Island office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

“If they are not free to go and do what they want, if they are engaged to wait and stay with their equipment or mail, then that’s hours worked,” said Miljoner.

And if your lunchtime work pushes you over 40 hours in a workweek,  you would be eligible for overtime for those extra hours, he said. Under federal law overtime is one and one-half times a worker’s average hourly rate.

Here is some additional information from the Labor Department’s Fact Sheet 22, which defines hours worked.

“The workweek ordinarily includes all time during which an employee is necessarily required to be on the employer's premises, on duty or at a prescribed workplace."

It looks as if you are going to have to talk to your employer about giving you a true lunch break or paying you for that time. If you are a union member, you should also check with your representative.

DEAR CARRIE: I work for an elevator company on Long Island.  The company is requiring us to go for mandatory safety training that will take place on a Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Is my employer required to pay us for that time? The company hasn’t said definitively whether it will.  -- On Whose Dime?

DEAR ON: The company should consider the attendance worktime, Miljoner said.

“They are sending him to training, so they have to pay for it,” he said.  

What’s more, the company requires the training for the job, Miljoner said.

“If it is a requirement of the job, then it’s part of the definition of hours worked,” he said.  

The fact that you are an employee matters.

“If you already have the job with the company and they send you for the required training, then they have to pay you,” Miljoner said.

A common example, he said, is security guards who have to get gun training.

Of course, some exceptions exist. If employees are required to have “generic training” before getting the job, such as training in order to obtain a commercial driver’s license, then they would have to  pay for that training and do it on their own time before being hired, Miljoner said.  

“If they are required to have training before the job or as a condition of employment, the company doesn’t have to pay,” he said. On the other hand, “If they have been hired for the job and they get sent for such training by the company, then the company has to pay for that time.”

It’s worth mentioning the criteria in federal labor law used to determine whether an employee has to be paid for attending a training session. Four criteria must be met in order for an employer to justify not paying an employee for training: It is outside normal hours; it is voluntary; it is not job-related, and no work is being performed at the same time.

Your situation clearly doesn’t meet all four of those conditions. For more information call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890.

Go to bit.ly/WorkLI for more on how federal labor law defines "hours worked." 

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