When you think of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the first thing to pop into mind might be employee misclassification (i.e., calling non-exempt employees exempt and thereby owing lots of unpaid overtime). I know it is for me. Another frequent FLSA misstep is not paying for all “hours worked.” For example, if employees are required to show up at 8 but they don’t login to their computers until 8:15, when does their work day start? The correct answer is 8, and they should be paid for all time worked in a given day, starting at 8. Thus, the question frequently arises, just what, exactly, are the hours worked? The United States Supreme Court recently decided a very interesting “hours worked” case, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk. The Court unanimously (!) held that a temporary staffing agency did not need to pay its workers for time they spent going through a security screening at the end of their shifts at an Amazon factory. Because the security screenings were not instrumental to the actual jobs, the employees did not need to paid for their time spent waiting for and in the screening lines, according to the Court.
What about lunch breaks? Do they need to be paid? Not if the employee is free to pursue her own activities, under the FLSA. But the question arises of what, exactly, is a working lunch? The Sixth Circuit just answered this question as it pertains to security guards at a Michigan casino. The guards had to stay on the property during their lunch breaks and monitor their two-way radios. Thus, they argued, their lunch breaks were actually hours worked and should have been compensated. Not so, according to the Sixth Circuit, which looked at the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether the guards’ lunchtime activities were “predominantly for the benefit of the employer.” The court concluded they were not, since for the most part, the guards had no job-related duties to perform. Monitoring their radios really took no time. Emergency interruptions were exceedingly rare – 3 employees were interrupted only 11 times over a collective 18 year period. Finally, the guards were free to do what one would expect on a lunch break: eat, rest, conduct personal business. The case is Ruffin v. Motorcity Casino. It’s one to remember as employers work to ensure their pay practices are legally compliant.