Can an Employer Tell Me What to Do on My Own Time?

Don't assume that just because you're off the clock that your employer cannot restrict your actions.
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When you accept a position, you expect your employer to control your actions while on the job. What you may not realize, however, is that your employer may have some say in how you spend your free time. While this control is limited, there are some situations in which your place of employment could determine what you can and cannot do on your own time.


    If you’re on-call at work, you might technically be off the clock but there may be restrictions on how you spend your time. In most cases, being on-call means that you must be accessible to your employer by phone, pager or email. In other cases, you may be required to physically come on-site in the case of an emergency. In this situation, for example, you may be limited as to how far you can travel on evenings and weekends while you are on-call.


    When you clock out for lunch, you are free to spend your break however you choose. You are limited, however, on how far you can go to eat because you may only have anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If, however, you take a break that lasts less than 20 minutes, the Department of Labor does not consider this to be a bona fide meal period. This means that you are eligible to be compensated for this break period and, therefore, are still on the clock. For example, you may step away for a quick coffee or smoke break but if you are needed, your employer has the right to ask you to perform work-related duties during this period of time.

Drug and Alcohol Use

    While drug and alcohol testing is not required of most private employers, many of them choose to administer such policies. Most people associate these tests with the pre-employment process, but keep in mind that if your employer screens applicants for controlled-substance use, it probably has a drug-free policy to accompany this practice. This essentially means that you agree, as a condition of employment, to not use illegal drugs; participation in this activity could result in the termination of your employment. A drug-testing program might involve a certain number of employees selected at random for testing. Similarly, if you drink alcohol and arrive at work impaired, your employer may require you to consent to an alcohol test. Testing positive in either of these cases could cost you your job.

Criminal Conviction

    If you are convicted of a crime, this could have an adverse impact on your employment. While your employer doesn’t monitor your daily activity, criminal convictions are publicly recorded and accessible by anyone. If you’re convicted of assault and battery, for example, while employed at a child care center, your employer would likely terminate your employment because of the nature of the conviction. Remember to use good judgment on and off the clock to avoid having a mistake made on your free time negatively affect your job.

Conflicts of Interest

    Your employer may require you to disclose any activities you participate in during your free time that could result in a potential conflict of interest and set limitations on whether you may continue those activities during your course of employment. A conflict of interest is generally considered to be a set of circumstances that may interfere with your commitment to your job or influence you to make decisions that are not in the best interest of your employer. For example, your employer may prohibit you from working for a competing business while remaining employed or require you to sign a non-compete agreement that would minimize the risk of you quitting and taking your clients with you to a competing company.

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