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Employment Blog

What You Do During A Meal Break May Mean More Pay

A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed whether employees performing certain activities during a meal break must be compensated in the form of pay for that work. Fortunately, the Court of Appeals held in favor of the employer when security guards were asking for pay while on a meal break because they were monitoring their radio in case they were called to address an emergency. 

The Sixth Circuit held that these employees were not entitled to pay for time worked during the meal break because the time they spent during their meal break was not “predominantly for the benefit of their employer.” The employees were not allowed to leave the premises and had to listen to their radio during the meal break but were not interrupted during their meal break unless an emergency occurred. This case, brought by security guards at a casino, is important because it clearly holds that employees who are on a meal break are not eligible to count that time as time worked even if they are listening to a work radio that is transmitting information about the happenings in the workplace and they are required to respond if an emergency occurs.

The Court of Appeals held that after examining all of the circumstances, it was reasonable to conclude that no substantial job duties were being engaged in during the meal break and that emergency calls rarely interrupted the meal break time. As a result, the Court concluded, on a summary judgment motion, that the time spent during the meal break should not count as time worked for overtime pay purposes. If the guards were called out to respond to an emergency, the time would count as time worked.

The Fair Labor Standard Act requires employers to pay overtime after 40 hours of work and count all time worked for purposes of reaching the 40-hour limit. Employers should be very careful when analyzing whether or not an employee is actually performing work for the company because there is a potential that time worked would count toward the 40-hour requirement. A recent budget proposal from President Obama includes an increase in monies for the Department of Labor to conduct investigations regarding overtime pay violations and other violations under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor (i.e. immigration issues). Employers should recognize that the Department of Labor may be very active during the next two years so it is important to understand and follow all of the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal laws.