Time spent by employees in meal and other breaks continues to prompt litigation against public and private sector employers. In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that corrections officers at a Pennsylvania prison failed to allege a violation of the FLSA by challenging the County’s failure to compensate them for part of their meal periods pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the parties. Babcock v. Butler Cnty., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20393 (3d Cir. 2015).

In Babcock, per the CBA, the COs received a one-hour meal period, forty-five minutes of which was compensated, with fifteen minutes uncompensated. Per Plaintiffs’ Complaint, during the meal periods, they could “not leave the prison without permission from the warden or deputy warden, [were required to] remain in uniform, in close proximity to emergency response equipment, and on call to respond to emergencies.” Because of these restrictions, along with the requirement that they respond to emergencies if they arose (for which they would be paid), Plaintiffs alleged they could not “run personal errands, sleep, breathe fresh air, or smoke cigarettes during mealtime” and therefore the facility was the “primary beneficiary” of the unpaid meal period time. The Court found that “on balance, these restrictions did not predominantly benefit the employer,” and that the existence of a CBA designating the meal period time as partially paid constituted “the agreed-upon characterization of the fifteen-minute unpaid meal break,” further bolstering its conclusion. Further coverage of the decision is available here.

Union and non-union employers alike must analyze their break time compensation policies.