Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Court adopts DOL bright-line rule: Employers must pay for breaks under 20 minutes

The FLSA requires employers to pay their non-exempt employees for hours worked. The Department of Labor has a regulation that states:
Rest periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry . . . . They must be counted as hours worked.
29 C.F.R. § 785.18. Courts are not bound to follow such agency regulations, but they do afford them some deference.
Not official use.

In Perez v. American Future Systems, Inc. the Eastern District of Pennsylvania adopted this rule and drew a bright line at 20 minutes. If you enjoy courts meandering through the Supreme Court's incoherent web of administrative deference precedent . . . great news! . . . this opinion's got plenty of that analysis.

The takeaway for employers is pretty obvious: pay your non-exempt employees for breaks under 20 minutes. The Court did note two exceptions to the general rule:
(1) unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks, and 
(2) breaks taken for the purpose of expressing breast milk.
The latter exception actually arises out of Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), which requires employers to provide nursing mothers with breaks to express breast milk but does not require employers to pay them.

See also: DOL News Release Pennsylvania marketing company owes at least $1.75M in back wages and damages for docking employee pay for compensable break time.