United States: Third Circuit Adopts ‘Predominant Benefit' Test For Paid Meal Breaks Under FLSA

Originally published by Wolters Kluwer Employee Benefit Plan Review, on April, 2016

Employers are required by federal law to pay for an employee's meal break only when the employee is primarily engaged in work-related duties during the meal break, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled.

In its decision in Babcock, et al. v. Butler County,1 the Third Circuit adopted the "predominant benefit" test to determine whether an employee's meal break is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In reaching its decision, the Third Circuit (which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) opted to follow the majority of federal appellate courts in applying the predominant benefit test.

Butler County Correctional Officers Sought Fully Compensated Meal Breaks

Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Butler County (PA) and the union representing the county's correctional officers, employees covered by the CBA were entitled to a one-hour meal period per shift–45 minutes of which were paid and 15 minutes of which were unpaid. Sarah Babcock, a Butler County correctional officer, filed suit on behalf of herself and all other county correctional officers, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania claiming the county violated the FLSA by failing to pay them for the 15-minute unpaid portion of their meal break.

Specifically, Babcock claimed that during their meal period the county restricted their ability to run personal errands, sleep, breathe fresh air, smoke cigarettes, or otherwise leave the prison without permission. Further, the county required correctional officers to remain in uniform, have their meal breaks within prison grounds, and if necessary, respond to emergency situations that arose during meal breaks. The county denied any liability and moved to dismiss the complaint contending that the correctional officers received the "predominant benefit" of the meal period notwithstanding the restrictions. The trial court agreed with the county and dismissed the suit, and the plaintiffs appealed.

Third Circuit Rejects the 'Relieved From All Duties' Test

In Babcock, to determine whether an employee's meal break is compensable work under the FLSA for which wages must be paid, the Third Circuit considered two tests: (1) the "relieved from all duties" test; and (2) the "predominant benefit" test. Under the relieved from all duties test, an employer must compensate employees for their meal break unless the employees are completely relieved from all work duties during the duration of the meal period. The Third Circuit rejected this test because it had been eschewed by all other federal circuit courts that have specifically addressed the issue. Instead, the Third Circuit adopted the predominant benefit test, which is followed by the majority of federal circuit courts.

Under the predominant benefit test, a court must assess the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the employee is primarily engaged in work-related duties during meal periods. The test calls for a fact-intensive analysis. If the employee is primarily engaged in work-related duties during the meal period, then the meal break is compensable under the FLSA. On the other hand, the meal break is not compensable if employees merely perform activities that are incidental to their work duties, which do not interfere with eating a regularly scheduled meal.

Using the predominant benefit test, the Third Circuit upheld the trial court's dismissal of the Butler County correctional officers' complaint. In doing so, the Babcock court concluded that the restrictions placed on employees during their meal break were not overly burdensome so as to deprive the correctional officers of the predominant benefit of their meal breaks. In particular, the court found that the plaintiffs enjoyed the following privileges during their meal break:

  • The plaintiffs could request authorization to leave the prison during their meal breaks;
  • The plaintiffs could enjoy their meals away from their desks; and
  • The county did not limit the plaintiffs' right to read non-departmental publications during their meal breaks.

The Third Circuit also held that the plaintiffs had adequate protection through their union and the CBA. Under the CBA, correctional officers already enjoyed a partially compensated meal break regardless of whether they were called to respond to an emergency situation. The CBA also required the county to pay correctional officers "mandatory overtime" in instances in which work duties interrupted employees' meal breaks. Thus, the Babcock court concluded that the CBA already required the county to compensate the plaintiffs when they were actually called to respond to an emergency situation during their meal break.

The plaintiffs have moved for reconsideration either by the original three-judge panel or before an en banc panel of the Third Circuit. In their motion for reconsideration, the plaintiffs argue that the Third Circuit erred by looking to the language of the CBA in its analysis of the FLSA question, and that its ruling therefore conflicts with rulings from other circuits.

Implications of the Babcock Decision and the Predominant Benefit Test

The Babcock opinion presents issues for employers who have an on-call component to their meal-break policy or otherwise require employees to perform incidental work during meal breaks. Because the predominant benefit test is a fact-intensive exercise, reasonable minds can differ on the issue of who derives the predominant benefit from a meal break. Accordingly, employers should be mindful of what their meal-break policy says, how the policy is implemented, and whether other workplace policies interfere with employees' meal breaks.

Further, under Babcock, it is clear that employers must compensate employees for their meal period when employees perform significant work during the meal period. Thus, when employees are required to perform work that prevents the employees from eating or from using the meal period predominantly for non-work activities, the employee must be compensated under the FLSA.

Finally, as in all facets of wage and hour law, the prudent employer must also be familiar with the intricacies of state and local wage and hour regulations that may be more restrictive than the FLSA and may require that a meal period be paid even if the time would not necessarily be compensable under the FLSA.

Footnote

1. No. 14-1467.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions