On October 13, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that short breaks during the work day of 20 minutes or fewer are compensable as a “bright-line rule” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The case, DOL v. American Future Systems, et al., arose out of the employer’s policy of withholding compensation for any breaks in excess of 90 seconds. Under the employer’s “flexible” break policy, employees were permitted to log out of their computer at their workstation at any time, for any reason, for any length of time, as often as they wished. If they remained logged off for more than 90 seconds, however, they would not be paid for any part of the time they remained logged off. In other words, even if employees logged out to use the restroom or get a cup of water, they would not be paid if they could not make it back to their computer and log back in within 90 seconds.
The Department of Labor (“DOL”) filed suit against the company, alleging a violation of the FLSA based on the DOL’s interpretation of its own regulation regarding short rest periods, 29 C.F.R. § 785.18. That regulation provides that “[r]est periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry. They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time. They must be counted as hours worked.” The District Court granted summary judgment to the DOL, upholding the regulation and awarding grant of liquidated damages. The District Court specifically rejected the company’s assertion that its flexible, unpaid break policy was implemented in a good faith attempt to comply with the FLSA. American Future Systems appealed the decision, arguing that an individualized assessment of the purpose behind each break – specifically, whether the break was more for the employee’s benefit or the employer’s benefit – should govern whether the break is compensable or not, and that because it sought legal advice prior to implementing its rule, it acted in good faith and should not be liable for liquidated damages. Continue Reading