DOL Clarifies Compensability of Employee Wellness and Benefit Fairs

Miller & Martin PLLC Alerts | September 27, 2018

Employers often encourage employees to attend or participate in health fairs, biometric screenings, wellness activities, financial training, or continued education informational opportunities. Participating in such events and activities often results in the reduction of health insurance premiums for employees. All of this raises the question:

Are employers required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to compensate employees for time voluntarily spent participating in such events and activities, which primarily benefit the employee?

The answer is “no,” with certain limitations, according to an Opinion Letter recently issued by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

The DOL’s Opinion Letter discusses the following events and activities:

  • biometric screening tests, which provide employees with health information such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.;
  • wellness activities, such as health counseling or classes, exercising, or dieting; and
  • benefits fairs on topics such as employer-provided benefits, financial planning, or continued education opportunities.

Under the DOL’s guidance in the Opinion Letter, the FLSA does not require employers to compensate employees for time spent attending the above events and activities, so long as the employees’ participation:

  • is completely voluntary;
  • is unrelated to his or her job; and
  • predominately benefits the employee rather than the employer.

The Opinion Letter explains that employers are not required to compensate employees who voluntarily participate in such activities, regardless of whether the activities occur on-site at the employer’s workplace, and regardless of whether the activities occur during regular working hours. This means that employees who voluntarily choose to attend an on-site benefits fair during the work day need not be compensated for the time spent at the benefits fair.

The only exception noted by the DOL pertains to employees who participate in such activities or events during their regular break of 20 minutes or less, as work breaks up to 20 minutes long are generally compensable, regardless of how an employee chooses to spend that break time. Thus, if an employee chooses to spend her regular 15-minute break at a benefits fair or biometric screening, the employer would be required to compensate her for that period like every other regular break period.

On a final note the DOL did not speak to in this new Opinion Letter, employers who encourage employees to participate in wellness activities such as “fit-bit” or other “steps per day” challenges or provide an on-site gym or gym membership reimbursement are reminded to have employees sign an acknowledgement that such activities are voluntary, they should obtain and follow their doctor’s advice before participating and stop participating in the event of any pain or injury, and that such activities are not a condition of their employment and are not considered to be in the course and scope of their employment for pay, workers’ compensation or any other purposes. We can assist in preparing and reviewing these employee acknowledgment forms.

If you have any questions concerning the new DOL Opinion Letter or the FLSA’s compensation requirements generally, please feel free to contact Jessica Malloy-Thorpe, Bill Trumpeter, or any other member of our Labor & Employment Law Practice Group.

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