According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers in Houston and nationwide must compensate employees for all the time they work or are permitted to work. However, businesses often question if an employee is required to be compensated during times they are not actually working but restrictions are placed on their activities, such as during meal breaks.
Examples of restricted meal breaks include times when an employee is not actively working but cannot leave the workplace, must remain in uniform and near their work area, must remain on call or cannot smoke, sleep or run personal errands. While Department of Labor regulations state that employees must be compensated for all breaks in which they are not completely relieved of duties, most federal appellate courts have refused to adopt that interpretation. Instead, they have applied a “totality of the circumstances” test to determine if the employer or the employee receives the “predominant benefit” of a break. The test includes consideration of whether an employee is free to leave their work area, the number of interruptions during a break, the types of activity restrictions placed on an employee and whether the matter is addressed in a collective bargaining agreement.
To put it simply, the court attempts to determine whether an employee is unable to benefit from a meal break because of ongoing work interruptions and responsibilities. Employees who are judged to be primarily engaged in work activities during their meal break must be compensated for their time.
Wage and hour laws like these are often difficult to interpret by both companies and their workers. Employees who feel that they have not be fully compensated for their time on the clock might want to meet with an attorney to see what recourse they may have.
Source:National Law Review, “Employee Meals and Breaks: There IS a Free Lunch,” Martin Saunders, Dec. 15, 2016