Article by Samantha Farrell, Esq.
In Pennsylvania, employers’ obligations to pay minimum wages and overtime are primarily governed by two statutes: (i) the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and (ii) the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA). While these statutes overlap in certain respects (for example, the PMWA ties the Commonwealth’s minimum wage to the federal minimum wage), some key differences have significant implications for employers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented Pennsylvania employers with a plethora of unprecedented challenges. From quickly establishing comprehensive work-at-home policies and procedures to complying with the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and other statutes, employers have faced numerous challenging legal issues over the past two years. As employers continue to adapt – and as many employers start asking their employees to return to work – FLSA and PMWA compliance are taking center stage.
Key Facts about Minimum Wages and Overtime Under the FLSA and PMWA
The FLSA and PMWA are complex and detailed statutes, and there is a substantial body of case law interpreting each statute under a broad range of circumstances. With this in mind, here are five overarching principles governing employees’ right to regular and overtime wages in Pennsylvania:
- Working from home does not impact an employee’s right to overtime pay under the FLSA or PMWA.
- The FLSA does not distinguish between work performed at an employer’s premises or job site and “work performed away from the premises or the job site.”
- Preliminary activities such as walking to a work station or putting on an apron or overalls are not compensable “work” under the Portal-to-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA. However, preliminary activities that are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities are compensable. Pennsylvania has not adopted a limiting amendment similar to the Portal to Portal Act. Therefore, preliminary and/or postliminary activities not compensable under the FLSA may be compensable under the PMWA.
- If an employer knows or has reason to believe, that work is being performed, it must pay for the work. This is true even if the employer did not specifically request that the work be performed.
- Federal courts have recognized a limited de minimis exception under the FLSA; however, Pennsylvania courts have held that a de minimis exception is not recognized under the PMWA.
What About Security and/or COVID-19 Screening?
One particular issue that has recently arisen in relation to employees’ right to wages and overtime is the issue of compensation for time spent waiting in security and/or COVID-19 screenings. While the United States Supreme Court has held that time spent in security checks is not compensable under the FLSA’s Portal-to-Portal Act, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that security screenings are compensable under the PMWA. The law regarding COVID-19 screenings is still developing.