No – a recent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that monitoring a radio during a meal break was compensable work time under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In Ruffin v. Motorcity Casino, d/b/a Detroit Entertainment, L.L.C., a group of security guards argued that their meal breaks should have counted as hours worked under the FLSA. No. 14-1444 (6th Cir., Jan. 7, 2015). During the meal breaks, the security guards were required to remain on the premises, monitor their two-way radios, and respond to emergencies if called to do so. Otherwise, the security guards were able to use their meal break time as they wanted. The security guards’ primary argument was that the requirement to monitor their two-way radios converted the meal break time into work time for purposes of the FLSA because they had to constantly monitor the chatter on the radios in order to know if an emergency required their attention.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the security guards’ argument. The court applied that general principle that meal break time is only compensable under the FLSA if it is spent predominantly for the benefit of the employer. The court cited a number of other cases that held that monitoring a radio is not substantial enough to convert a meal break into hours worked. The court further noted that the evidence supported the conclusion that the security guards could their meal break time as they chose – for example, by eating, reading, socializing, and conducting personal business on their phones – despite needing to monitor their radios. As a result, the court held that the radio-monitoring requirement was a de minimis activity, not a substantial job duty, and did not require payment under the FLSA.
Takeaway: Imposing minimal requirements on an employee during his or her meal break – such as requiring the employee to remain on premises or monitor a two-way radio – generally is insufficient to require payment for the meal break under the FLSA.