Third Circuit Determines That Employers Must Compensate Employees for Rest Breaks of 20 Minutes or Less
In a recent decision, the Third Circuit concluded that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to compensate employees for all rest breaks of twenty minutes or less. By way of background, employer American Future Systems, d/b/a Progressive Business Publications, utilized a policy that allowed its employees to log off their computers at any time assuming they were logged off of their computers for less than 90 seconds. However, employees were only paid for time they were logged on. Accordingly, Progressive employees could take as many breaks as they wanted (i.e., coffee and bathroom) during the course of a working day and be paid so long as the break was for less than 90 seconds. If the break was longer, they did not receive compensable time. In other words, Progressive stopped paying employees after they were logged off for more than 90 seconds.
After suit was filed against Progressive by the United States Department of Labor alleging violations of the FLSA, the lower court determined that rest periods of short duration (up to 20 minutes) were compensable time under the FLSA and should be counted as hours worked. On appeal, the employer argued that the time spent logged off does not constitute “work” under the FLSA. The Third Circuit, however, held that Progressive’s policy “forced employees to choose between such basic necessities as going to the bathroom or getting paid unless the employee could sprint from computer to bathroom, relieve him or herself while there, and then sprint back to his or her computer in less than 90 seconds.” The Court continued, “If the employee can somehow manage to do that, he or she will be paid for the intervening period. If the employee requires more than 90 seconds to get to the bathroom and back, the employee will not be paid.” That result, the Third Circuit held, is contrary to the FLSA. Accordingly, the Court ruled that an employer is obligated to pay its employees for breaks of 20 minutes or less under the FLSA.