In Jones-Turner v. Yellow Enterprise Systems, LLC, the Sixth Circuit recently upheld summary judgment in favor of an ambulance company in a collective action filed by three EMTs, finding that the plaintiffs’ meal and rest breaks were not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Kentucky law. The Court analyzed whether the ambulance company’s policy of having “on-call” lunch periods required EMTs to be compensated for that time.
According to the “on-call” lunch period policy, EMTs in the field were not allotted a specific time period for lunch but were instructed to take advantage of down time between ambulance runs to eat a meal. The EMT crews were required to radio the dispatcher to request a lunch break. During their lunch break, the crews were subject to various restrictions. For instance, the crews had to eat within one mile of an assigned stand-by location. If the crews were out of their unit, they had to maintain radio contact, they were expected to answer the radio after the first call and they were subject to any available run. If an employee was unable to take a lunch break due to call volume, the company required the employee to submit a missed lunch form.
The Court noted that there did not appear to be any evidence that employees were frequently interrupted by radio contact. Likewise, there was no evidence that crews could only eat in their ambulances. To the contrary, the evidence showed that they could leave the ambulance so long as they maintained radio contact. The Court explained that it may have reached a different conclusion if EMTs were required to stay in their ambulances or if they had to drive or perform other duties.
The decision is helpful to employers as it clarifies that merely carrying a radio or monitoring a radio during lunch does not result in the meal period being compensable under the FLSA. Although employers must be careful that they do not require employees to perform work during their meal periods, being subject to an emergency call does not transform meal periods into compensable time under the FLSA.