Per FLSA regulations, break periods between 5 to 20 minutes generally are considered compensable.  29 C.F.R. § 785.18.  While state wage-and-hour laws typically borrow extensively from the FLSA’s regulatory framework, a new decision from a Missouri Federal Judge highlights that many of the vagaries of state law are unsettled or unclear, rejecting Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment that breaks of precisely such duration required compensation under Missouri state law.  Benton v. Labels Direct, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133308 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 23, 2014).

In Benton, plaintiff warehouse workers for Defendant Labels Direct historically were provided with a one-hour unpaid lunch break for many years.  At their own urging, the break policy was modified so that instead of one consecutive hour, the workers took a 30 minute and two 15 minute breaks, all of which remained unpaid.  Several sued and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the FLSA regulation also applied under Missouri law and accordingly the two 15-minute breaks were compensable.  Judge E. Richard Webber denied their summary judgment motion, noting that “It is uncontroverted that during these breaks, the employees were completely relieved from duty, free to do whatever they wanted, and provided meals” and that the regulation did not necessarily control the Court’s ruling under either the FLSA or Missouri law.

The Benton decision, while reached under Missouri law, provides some measure of defense for employers providing uncompensated breaks of under 20 minutes.  However, in light of the federal regulation, FLSA covered employers must consider the federal regulation, as well as applicable state law and any applicable collective bargaining agreement.