Massachusetts Superior Court Decides When a Meal Break Must be Paid

meal breakMassachusetts employers are now required to apply the “relieved of all work duties” standard when determining if an employee’s meal break is non-compensable. In Devito v. Longwood Security Services Inc., the Massachusetts Superior Court held that meal breaks are “working time,” unless the employee is relieved of all work-related duties during the break.

The Plaintiffs, security officers employed by defendant, Longwood Security Services, claimed their meal breaks were working time and should have been compensated. Longwood Security Services provides private security services at several locations, including housing developments and hospitals. Under Longwood Security Services’ policy, employees are allowed to take an unpaid thirty minute meal break. During the meal break, employees are to remain in uniform and are not allowed to leave their assigned work area without permission. Furthermore, employees have to keep a radio and respond when called to during their meal breaks.

The defendant argued that a meal break is compensable only if the employee is “primarily engaged in work-related duties” during the meal break – inquiry referred as the predominant benefit test. The argument was based on two court decisions made decades ago that applied the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under this benefit test, meal breaks are unpaid if the break time was spend “predominantly” for the benefit of the employees, even if some work was performed during the break.

The Court rejected the defendant’s argument, and accepted that “all on-call time is compensable working time unless the employee is not required to be at the work site or another location, and is effectively free to use his or her time for his or her own purposes.” That is, employees performing only a few minutes of work during their meal break are entitled to paid time. The Court stated that it applied the plain language of the Massachusetts statute or regulations and not the FLSA interpretation in determining whether meal breaks should be paid. With this decision, employers in the state of Massachusetts must review their meal break policies and make any necessary changes.

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