Employees Should Be Paid During Rest Breaks

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A major federal appellate court ruled last week that employees deserve to be paid during rest breaks that are up to twenty minutes or fewer.

A publishing company called American Future Systems, Inc., doing business as Progressive Business Publications, had instituted a policy in which the company would not pay sales workers for any time they were logged off their computers for more than 90 seconds. The company allowed employees to log off their computers at any time, but it would only pay employees for time that they were logged on. Under Progressive’s policy, it would only pay sales representatives for time they were logged off of their computers only if they were logged off for less than 90 seconds.

The United States Department of Labor filed suit against the company for this policy in late 2012, claiming that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay the federal minimum wage, because it failed to compensate employees during those rest breaks. The Department of Labor has consistently stated, since 1940, that rest periods running from five minutes to twenty minutes are compensable time and should be counted as hours worked by employers.

A panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Department of Labor and against Progressive, writing that the company’s policy flouted the basic spirit of the FLSA by forcing employees to choose between the necessities of going to the bathroom or getting paid: “If the employee requires more than 90 seconds to get to the bathroom and back, the employee will not be paid for the period logged off of, and away from, the employee’s computer. That result is absolutely contrary to the FLSA.”

Employees are entitled to receive wages when they take breaks of 20 minutes or fewer to visit the bathroom, stretch their legs, get a cup of coffee, or simply clear their head after a difficult stretch of work. And the law should protect employee health and general well-being by not dissuading employees from taking such breaks when they are needed.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania both have similar state statutes and regulations that protect an employee’s right to take short, reasonable breaks and be compensated for that time. Cases like this are why it is so essential for employees to know their own rights.
Locks Law Firm attorneys represent workers all over the country, including in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, who are not being paid their fair compensation under the law.

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