Practice Areas

Pay to Play: Compensable Time and Employer-Sponsored Recreational Activities

A common way for employers to boost employee morale and promote team building is to host non-work related recreational activities, such as sports teams and bowling events.  While most employers are mindful of the potential for workers’ compensation and negligence liabilities for injuries occurring during these events, and often take necessary precautions to minimize those liabilities, the overwhelming majority of employers don’t know that, under federal law, some employees may actually be entitled to be paid for their time spent participating in these events.

As an initial matter, the obligation to pay employees for attendance at these kinds of events applies only to non-exempt employees (that is, those employees entitled to earn overtime pay).  Exempt employees do not need to be paid extra for time spent participating in these events.

While certainly not the only factors to be considered when assessing if certain activities are compensable, an employer’s obligation to pay non-exempt employees will likely turn on (1) when the event is scheduled and (2) whether attendance is voluntary.

As softball season begins and businesses put final touches on their plans for a company picnic, here are some guidelines for employers to remember:

  • Activities scheduled during the regular work day will almost always be compensable.
  • Even if scheduled after hours, these activities will still be compensable “work” for any non-exempt employees required to attend.
  • Activities scheduled outside of regular working hours that are entirely voluntary will not be compensable.  Attendance, however, is not truly voluntarily if the employee is led to believe that non-attendance would somehow adversely affect his employment.  For example, if attendance is “strongly encouraged” or an employer makes note of an employee’s failure to participate in a performance evaluation, attendance is compensable time.