Federal Court of Appeals Decides Compensability of Meal Periods

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On November 24, 2015, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit -- the federal court with jurisdiction over New Jersey -- issued an opinion that impacts how and when employers must compensate employees for a meal period. Joining the majority of federal appellate courts, the Third Circuit specified that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employers must apply the “predominant benefit test” when deciding the compensability of a meal period. (Click here to read the opinion in Babcock v. Butler County.)

Under the predominant benefit test, courts ask whether the employee is primarily engaged in work-related duties, and not completely relieved from his or her work responsibilities, during meal periods.  This test requires a fact-intensive inquiry as to who is truly receiving the benefit of the meal period -- the employee or the employer. 

Other courts that have adopted this test have looked to whether the employee is free to leave the premises, the number of interruptions to which the employee is subject, and whether the employee is in fact relieved from work for the purpose of eating a regularly scheduled meal.  Under the law, if the employee is not completely relieved of all work duties during the meal period, then the employee will need to be paid for that time

In light of this decision, employers should carefully review their compensation and meal period policies and practices.  Please feel free to contact Connell Foley’s labor and employment law attorneys for assistance with determining whether employees should be compensated for their meal periods and reviewing your handbook policies.