Compensable Idle Time, Unpaid Meal Breaks and Your Unpaid Overtime Case in Georgia

In a line from a popular 1999 workplace comedy film, the main character described his workweek thusly: “I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working… I’d say in a given workweek I only do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.” Idle time at work is a reality at many jobs. How your employer does (or doesn’t) credit that idle time when it comes to paying you — including overtime pay — potentially can be a basis for an employer’s legal liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If you think your employer has underpaid you in violation of the law, get in touch with an Atlanta unpaid overtime lawyer right away.

Determining pay for workers’ idle time sometimes can present challenges. As an example, consider this unpaid overtime case involving employees of a federal government contractor.

The employer was an entity tasked with providing security on the flights the U.S. government provides to take certain deported immigrants back to their home countries. The employees were the security officers on those flights.

Once the officers dropped off the deportees in their home countries, the officers were required by their employer to fly back to Miami aboard the same aircraft. The officers had virtually no duties while these “empty” flight legs were in the air, and were permitted to sleep, watch TV, or play video games.

Despite those facts, the employer generally paid the security officers for their time aboard these “empty” flights, including paying overtime. There was, however, one wrinkle: the employer deducted one hour of time from these flights as a “meal period.” The break was mandatory and officers were instructed to avoid doing any work-related duties during that hour.

From a procedural perspective, the employer “didn’t record actual meal periods, but instead, simply subtracted one hour from each [officer’s] timesheet.” This procedure led the officers to sue for unpaid overtime in violation of the FLSA.

In resolving the case, the ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose opinions directly control federal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) provides some important illumination on the issue of “burden of proof” in unpaid overtime cases like this.

The Burden of Proof and Why It Is So Important

Any burden of proof question is a critical one. If you have the burden, then it is vital that you know what evidence you need to meet that burden and keep your case viable. If the other side has the burden, then you need to be prepared, in the event the other side fails to provide the proof required to meet their burden, to take action based upon your opponent’s failure to meet its burden of proof.

In overtime cases, the worker usually is the party with the burden of proof. However, in cases like that of these security officers, the employer was the party with the burden of proof.

The problem for the employer (and upside for the employees) was, as the court noted, that nothing differentiated what the officers were doing during their unpaid meal breaks from what they were doing during “other idle—but compensable—time on the flight.” Based on evidence that the officers were doing the exact same thing during their meal breaks as they were doing the rest of the (compensable) time, the court declared that “it follows, then, that the meal breaks must also be compensable” just like the rest of the time the officers spent riding on the “empty” flights.

If you have been illegally denied (or underpaid) overtime pay, there’s a lot that goes into a successful FLSA case result. One of those critical ingredients in the right legal team. Count on the Atlanta unpaid overtime attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to be the powerful and effective advocate you need. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.

Contact Information