Generally, when an employee is "on duty" (that is they must be in the home and prepared to provide services when required), they are working. For example, a direct care worker who must watch over an ill client is on duty and must be paid for all of that time. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employee who reads a book, knits, or works a puzzle while awaiting assignments is working during the period of inactivity. In such cases, the employee is "engaged to wait" and must be paid for such time.

On the other hand, workers (including live-in employees) who have been completely relieved from duty and are able to use the time for their own purposes - to go to a movie, run a personal errand, attend a parent-teacher conference - need not be paid for this time. For example, a live-in care provider who assists her roommate who has a disability in the morning for three hours, then goes to class at the local university, returns home to study, watches television, and does her own laundry before assisting the roommate for two hours in the evening, has only worked five hours; the hours spent actually engaged in assisting the roommate who has a disability is deemed to be compensable hours worked.

An employee who works on the employer's premises is not necessarily considered working all the time he or she is on the premises.

Example: George is hired as a personal attendant for Mr. Norton. He is expected to report to work at 7:00 am, when Mr. Norton's daughter departs for work, and to stay until she returns in the evening, usually at 8:00 pm. While at the Norton residence, George is expected to be available should Mr. Norton need assistance with dressing, preparing meals, taking walks in the garden, or for any other reason. Three days a week George leaves at 1:00 pm to attend to personal business and returns at 4:00 pm. There are some days when George chooses not to leave the residence during this time but rather to stay and read a book or tend to personal paperwork. George is "engaged to wait" and is considered to be working during all the time he is at the residence attending to, or is expected to be available to, Mr. Norton. George is not working when he is completely relieved from duty for a period long enough to use the time effectively for his own purposes, such as running personal errands, reading a book, or doing personal paperwork.

Example: William lives with his cousin, Ms. Jones, who is developmentally disabled. William is employed by a state agency to tend to her basic needs - preparing meals and feeding her, bathing, dressing, and administering medications. William spends 6 hours a day performing these functions and otherwise is free to leave the residence and to use the remainder of his day as he sees fit. William's hours worked are the 6 hours he spends preparing meals, feeding, bathing, and administering medications to his cousin, Ms. Jones.

Example: Wendy is employed as a live-in direct care worker for Mr. White. Wendy and Mr. White have an agreement that she will provide assistance with toileting, bathing, dressing, preparing breakfast and transportation to Mr. White's workplace. This normally takes 2.5 hours depending on traffic to Mr. White's office. Mr. White is at work from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Wendy is not required to remain with Mr. White. In fact, Wendy goes to another part-time job at the grocery store. At the end of Mr. White's workday, Wendy transports Mr. White to his home, prepares dinner for him and cleans up afterward before assisting Mr. White as he retires for the evening. This normally takes 4 hours. Wendy's compensable hours worked in this scenario are 6.5.