Security guards required by their employer to monitor the radio during their meal breaks were not entitled to pay for those breaks, as monitoring the radio and responding to possible emergencies did not transform the break into compensable time.
The case was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction for cases in states from Michigan to Tennessee. The plaintiffs were security guards at a casino in Detroit. Their employer granted them meal breaks in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but with some restrictions. Namely, they were required to monitor the radio, and in case of an emergency, they would have had to respond. They were also required to stay on the premises during these breaks, but they were allowed to sit down, watch television, use the internet, and engage in generally any task they wished.
Under the FLSA, employers are required to pay nonexempt employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times their normal wage for every hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day work week. The question before the Sixth Circuit in this case was whether the duty to monitor the radio, although labeled as a meal break, constituted work. If the time was counted as work, the plaintiffs would have worked about 41.25 hours per week and would have been owed overtime.
Although the term “work” is not defined by the FLSA, the Supreme Court has defined it as physical or mental exertion that is done for the benefit of the employer. So long as the employee’s activity meets this definition, it is compensable time, even if it is occurs at a time labelled as a lunch/meal break. To count as a meal break, the employee must not be engaged in the completion of any substantial duties.
The plaintiffs argued that the responsibility to monitor the radio interrupted their meal break and constituted a substantial duty, which would entitle them to pay for the time. They also contended that the fact they were not allowed to leave the premises further supported the notion that the time counted as work.
The Sixth Circuit ultimately disagreed with the plaintiffs. The court cited to court decisions from other jurisdictions that had previously held that simply listening to the radio would not transform a meal break into compensable time. The same is true for the requirement that the employee stay on the grounds. Further, the facts hurt the plaintiffs’ case. The plaintiffs admitted that rarely, if ever, was their time interrupted by an actual emergency — activity that would undisputedly constitute work.
Employees owed back wages may attempt to collect them from their employers. If your current or former employer owes you money for work you have done, the Tennessee unpaid wage attorneys of Parks, Chesin & Walbert can help you seek the money that you have earned. To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.
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