Paying Employees to Eat?

Recent Superior Court Case Gives Important Reminder

A recent decision from the Superior Court reminds us that the rules that apply to payment of compensation for meal breaks are the more employee-friendly Massachusetts rules rather than the less strict federal test under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Under the FLSA, the “predominant” rule applies, i.e., compensation for meal time is determined by whether the time is spent predominantly for the benefit of the employer or predominantly for the benefit of the employee.  The Massachusetts rule, which applies to all employers of employees in Massachusetts, however, takes precedence.  The Massachusetts rule requires that an employee be compensated for the time unless the employee was relieved of all work-related duties during the meal break.

In DeVito v. Longwood Security Services, Inc., decided on December 23, 2016, Judge Edward Leibensperger ruled that there was “no ambiguity” in the language of the regulations interpreting the Massachusetts Wage Act that would warrant the court in considering the federal test.  Accordingly, the Court adopted the “relief from duties” test, leaving for the jury the determination as to whether the employee enjoyed full and complete relief from all duties during their meal breaks.

This case stands for the proposition that a “little ask” may become a “big deal.”  The next time you are thinking of interrupting your employee’s tuna sandwich to make “just one copy,” recognize that it may turn out to be a very expensive copy.

About Rich Van Nostrand

Rich is a partner at the Firm. He has extensive experience in general civil trial work, with concentrations in business, commercial and employment litigation. He provides advice and representation in a variety of business and commercial litigation matters, including shareholder disputes, corporate dissolutions, intra- and inter-company disagreements, and intra-family business disputes. Rich also provides ongoing employment litigation and counseling services to numerous clients in the private, public and higher education sectors. In the private sector, Rich represents clients in a broad range of industries including health care, professional services, high technology, industrial and manufacturing. In addition, he is also frequently selected by litigants to assist in the resolution of their disputes as an independent arbitrator or mediator.
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