29 CFR 790.10 - “Compensable * * * by a custom or practice.”
(a) A “preliminary” or “postliminary” activity of the type described in section 4(a) of the Portal Act may be “compensable” within the meaning of section 4(b), by a custom or practice as well as by a contract. If it is so compensable, the relief afforded by section 4 is not available to the employer with respect to such activity, 74 and section 4(d) does not operate to exclude the time spent in such activity from hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 75 Accordingly, in the event that no “express provision of a written or nonwritten contract” makes compensable the activity in question, it is necessary to determine whether the activity is made compensable by a custom or practice, not inconsistent with such a contract, in effect at the establishment or other place where the employee was employed. 76
74 See § 790.4.
75 See §§ 790.5 and 790.7.
76 See Senate Report, p. 49.
The same is true with respect to the activities referred to in section 2 of the Portal Act in an action or proceeding relating to activities performed before May 14, 1947. See Senate Report, p. 45. See also § 790.23.
(b) The meaning of the word “compensable” is the same, for purposes of the statute, whether a contract or a custom or practice is involved. 77
77 See § 790.9(b).
(c) The phrase, “custom or practice,” is one which, in common meaning, is rather broad in scope. The meaning of these words as used in the Portal Act is not stated in the statute; it must be ascertained from their context and from other available evidence of the Congressional intent, with such aid as may be had from the many judicial decisions interpreting the words “custom” and “practice” as used in other connections. Although the legislative history casts little light on the precise limits of these terms, it is believed that the Congressional reference to contract, custom or practice was a deliberate use of non-technical words which are commonly understood and broad enough to cover every normal situation under which an employee works or an employer for compensation. 78 Accordingly, “custom” and “practice,” as used in section 4(b) of the Portal Act, may be said to be descriptive generally of those situations where an employer, without being compelled to do so by an express provision of a contract, has paid employees for certain activities performed. One of the sponsors of the legislation in the House of Representatives indicated that the intention was not only “to protect every collective bargaining agreement about these activities” but “to protect the agreement between one workman and his employer” and “every practice or custom which we assume must have entered into the minds of the people when they made the contract.” 79
78 See colloquy between Senators Donnell and Tydings, 93 Cong. Rec. 2125, 2126; colloquy between Senators Donnell, Lodge, and Hawkes, 93 Cong. Rec. 2178, 2179; colloquy between Senators Donnell and Hawkes, 93 Cong. Rec. 2181, 2182. Statements of Senator Cooper, 93 Cong. Rec. 2293.
79 Statements of Representative Gwynne, 93 Cong. Rec. 1566.
(d) The words, “custom or practice,” as used in the Portal Act, do not refer to industry custom or the habits of the community which are familiar to the people; these words are qualified by the phrase “in effect * * * at the establishment or other place where such employee was employed.” The compensability of an activity under custom or practice, for purposes of this Act, is tested by the custom or the practice at the “particular place of business,” “plant,” “mine,” “factory,” “forest,” etc. 80
80 Senate Report, p. 45; colloquy between Senators Donnell and Hawkes, 93 Cong. Rec. 2179.
(e) “The custom or practice” by which compensability of an activity is tested under the statute is one “covering such activity.” Thus, a custom or practice to pay for washing up in the plant after the end of the workday, for example, would not necessarily establish the compensability of walking time thereafter from the washroom in the plant to the plant gate. It is enough, however, if there is a custom or practice covering “such activity”; there is no provision, as there is with regard to contracts, that the custom or practice be one “between such employee, his agent, or collective-bargaining representative, and his employer.” 81
81 See § 790.9(d).
(f) Another qualification of the “custom or practice” referred to in the statute is that it be “not inconsistent with a written or non-written contract” of the kind mentioned therein. If the contract is silent on the question of compensability of the activity, a custom or practice to pay for it would not be inconsistent with the contract. 82 However, the intent of the provision is that a custom or practice which is inconsistent with the terms of any such contract shall not be taken into account in determining whether such an activity is compensable. 83
82 Senate Report, pp. 45, 49; colloquy between Senators Donnell and Hawkes, 93 Cong. Rec. 2179.
83 Senate Report, pp. 45, 49.