By Kelline R. Linton,
In Naylor v. Securiguard, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a meal break may actually be compensable when an employer-mandated transition or travel time to the designated break area significantly reduces the 30-minute meal period.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s regulations provide that employers are not required to pay employees for bona fide meal breaks that typically last at least 30 minutes. Instead, rest periods of shorter duration (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes) are compensable and counted as hours worked for overtime purposes.
In Naylor, security guards worked eight-hour shifts with two unpaid 30-minute meal breaks. During those breaks, the guards were not permitted to eat at their gate or in parked company vehicles. At some posts, the guards could walk to designated break locations; however, at other posts, the guards had to drive to break locations in mandatory company vehicles. The employer prohibited the guards from eating, drinking, smoking, or talking on their cell phones while driving these company vehicles. Depending on the post, some guards had a 1 to 12-minute roundtrip commute to the nearest break location. The Fifth Circuit concluded that an employer-mandated travel time that deprived the employees of the opportunity to eat during 40% of a 30-minute meal break significantly hampered the employees’ ability to use the time for their own purposes, which is an important consideration to qualify as non-compensable time. However, the Fifth Circuit did hold that travel time of no more than a few minutes was de minimus and not compensable.
Advice for Employers: Employers should carefully review their meal break policies to ensure other rules that apply to employees during break time do not significantly reduce the amount of time the employees may use for their own purposes during the meal period. A short transition time, such as walking to a break area or undergoing a security screening, is generally not compensable. Employers should not focus solely on the amount of time for the meal break, but should ensure that any transition time is truly de minimus.