Do Lunch Breaks Count Toward Overtime Pay for Texas Oilfield Workers?
The oilfields of Texas have long been a battlefield when it comes to overtime pay. The oil producers have been trying a lot of different methods to reduce their labor costs. And they have tried to skirt the overtime laws to do it.
But have their tricks been illegal? Should the workers out on the Texas plains be compensated for their time spent on a lunch break? And are they getting away with it? The answers might surprise you.
What Counts as Overtime Pay?
Overtime is a federal law mandated by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This requires that any non-exempt workers be paid at least time plus one half for any hours worked over 40 hours in one week. But there’s actually more to it than that.
The states can mandate overtime laws that can supersede Federal Law. They just have to be at least as strong as Federal Law. And because of this, overtime laws can vary largely from state to state.
What it’s Like to Work in Oilfields of Texas
The work conditions in Texas can be brutally hot in the summer and surprisingly cold in the winter. And while work conditions don’t play into overtime, work areas do. In fact, the work area of an oil field is what makes this such a unique situation.
The state of Texas doesn’t have any specific language concerning requirements for breaks in its labor laws. So, it gets deferred to federal laws, which also don’t require paid lunch breaks. Meal breaks can, however, become paid working time if the employee is continuing to do any form of work while on break.
Are Oil Fields Considered Work Areas?
So, are oil field areas considered work areas? It depends on who you ask. Just about any oil executive would be quick to say no, but that might not be correct. At most workplaces, they have designated break rooms. Even though they’re still on the premises, they’re not in a work area and don’t warrant being paid.
But oil field workers often don’t have break rooms. They generally keep their lunches in their toolboxes and stop and eat right where they’re working. Does that become a nonwork area because they’ve stopped working on eating?
This also has some grey areas. For example, many oil field employees have been improperly put into exempt classifications such as:
- Independent Contractors – meaning they wouldn’t receive overtime pay, any benefits or even have taxes withheld
- Day-Rate laborers – meaning that they would get paid a specific sum by the day and not by the hours worked or amount of work done and no additional pay for overtime hours
- Salaried Exempt employees – meaning they are paid a set salary with no overtime premium, regardless of the number of hours they work per week
Another trick used is if they provide money for food and expenses, it’s called per diem. And what they will do is pay more on that and less on their hourly pay because per diem doesn’t count towards overtime. This scheme is called disguising wages as per diem payments and is often presented to workers as a benefit to them because taxes are not taken out of the per diem payments. What the employers do not explain is that by disguising part of the worker’s pay as expense reimbursement, the rate on which overtime is calculated goes down, depriving the worker of the full amount they are due for overtime.
Contact a Lawyer If You’ve Been Cheated Out of Overtime Pay
Overtime laws can be tricky for even the most basic cases. You need someone like the overtime lawyers at The Lore Law Firm in your corner to get the results you want and the money you’re owed! Contact us today at 866-559-0400 or by completing our online contact form.