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Court rules: ‘Grab a slice any time’ doesn’t constitute a real meal break

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in Human Resources,Overtime Labor Laws

A federal court has ruled that an employer cannot take a credit towards unpaid overtime for paid meal breaks.

Recent case: A group of bicycle pizza delivery couriers sued their employer, Gotham Pizza, over alleged unpaid overtime. They were generally paid at a flat rate of $250 to $350 per week for 60 or more hours of work spread over six days.

There was no evidence that any plaintiff was given a “bona fide meal period,” or any notice that there would be a period of time each day, whether 30 minutes or something else, when they were not on call to perform work for Gotham Pizza. Instead, the owner of Gotham Pizza testified that he permitted his employees to take meal breaks “as they please.”

The court ruled this catch-as-catch-can opportunity to grab a slice of pizza did not constitute a bona fide meal period.

The defendants provided no written notice of any meal break credit, or notice that their “paid” meal breaks would offset their overtime pay or make up for Gotham Pizza’s failure to pay a minimum wage. There were no records reflecting any meal breaks.

Under those circumstances, the court refused to allow a credit of indeterminate “paid” meal breaks (which were only paid in the sense that workers never clocked out during their workday). Doing so would encourage fraud. (Alonso v. Gotham Pizza, No. 12-CV-3133, SD NY, 2016)

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