New Standard For Unpaid Meal Periods May Impact Massachusetts Employers

In a recent case (DeVito v. Longwood Security Services, Inc.), the Massachusetts Superior Court set forth a new standard for determining whether an employee’s meal period should be paid or unpaid.

The Case

In this case the plaintiffs were a group of private security officers who worked at housing developments, medical facilities, and colleges. These employees were provided the opportunity to take their meal periods, but were required to remain at their assigned worksite, remain in uniform, and respond to any radio calls they might receive during the meal period.

The employees filed a lawsuit claiming that their meal periods should be paid because the employees were not completely relieved of all work-related duties during their meal periods.

The employer, on the other hand, argued that the meal periods should not be paid because the time the employees’ spent on their meal periods was predominantly for the benefit of the employees (which is the test Court have generally applied for determining whether a break should be paid under the FLSA).

The Massachusetts Superior Court agreed with the employees and held that the standard for whether a meal period should be paid or unpaid in Massachusetts was whether the employees were completely relieved of all work-related duties – i.e. the “relieved-of-all-duties” test. Under this test, Massachusetts employers must pay employees for meal breaks unless employees are completely relieved of all work-related duties during the meal period. In other words, meal periods where employees are required to remain on premises and/or on-call must be paid meal periods.

Take Home For Employers

The Court’s ruling likely impacts many Massachusetts employers. It is recommended that all Massachusetts employers review their meal period policies and practices and ensure that employees’ meal period are unpaid only if the employees are free of all work-related duties during their meal periods. In addition, managers and supervisors should be informed of this change in the law and further directed to carefully consider any restrictions that they might place on employees during the meal period (like requiring the employees to remain onsite or to remain on-call) as such practices may render the meal period compensable.