8th Circuit relaxes meal break pay requirements

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Here’s a quirk in wage-and-hour law for Minnesota employers. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had adopted a different standard than the one recommended by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for determining whether meal times must be paid time.

The DOL says meal times are paid time unless employees are completely relieved of their duties during breaks. The 8th Circuit says the correct rule is that employers can require employees to be ready to work during meal times without affecting its unpaid status.

This is known as the “predomi­nantly for the benefit of the employer” standard.

Recent case: Dimas and other chicken processing plant employees sued Tyson Foods, alleging they had been denied pay for hours worked. They demanded pay for their meal periods because Tyson required them to take off their protective clothing before lunch and put it back on before returning to work. The em­­ployees wanted that time to be excluded from unpaid lunch time and included in paid time.

They argued that under the DOL interpretation of unpaid meal times, requiring them to remove and put gear back on meant that they were not completely relieved of work duties for the entire meal period.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said the workers had it wrong. The correct rule is that the activity performed during meal times had to be predominantly for the benefit of the employer to be paid time. Tak­­ing gear off and putting it back on didn’t meet that standard. Presumably, employees wouldn’t want to eat in protective gear splattered with chicken blood. (Lopez, et al., v. Tyson Foods, No. 11-2344, 8th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Consult your attorney before requiring em­­ployees to be on call or not completely relieved during meal breaks.

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