Definition: Direct labor is production or services labor that is assigned to a specific product, cost center, or work order. When a business manufactures products, direct labor is considered to be the labor of the production crew that produces goods, such as machine operators, assembly line operators, painters, and so forth. When a business provides services, direct labor is considered to be the labor of those people who provide services directly to customers, such as consultants and lawyers. Generally, a person who is charging billable time to a customer is working direct labor hours.
The cost of direct labor is generally considered to be the cost of regular hours, shift differentials, and overtime hours worked by employees, as well as the related amounts of payroll taxes. An expanded version of direct labor, known as fully-burdened direct labor, also includes an allocation of the benefit costs earned by direct labor employees.
Direct labor is considered to be a direct cost, which means that it varies directly with revenue or some other measure of activity. This is not necessarily the case in a production environment, where the manufacturing area typically requires a certain amount of staffing, irrespective of the number of units produced. The direct cost concept is more applicable in a professional billings environment, where the cost of direct labor usually varies with changes in revenue.