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Massachusetts Judge Finds that Work During a Meal Break is Compensable Time under the Massachusetts Wage Act

Published:  January 12, 2017

       A Suffolk Superior Court judge recently ruled that, under Massachusetts law, an employer had failed to compensate its employees for time spent working during their break period.  The decision is notable because the judge used a new test in determining whether an employee must be paid for meal break times.  Through his ruling, the judge determined that, under the Massachusetts Wage Act, the test for whether an employee must be paid for a meal break is whether an employee is relieved of all duties during the break period.          

      The Suffolk Superior Court judge made his ruling against a Defendant-Employer based upon the fact that the Defendant-Employer (a security company) required its employees to stay in their vehicles and answer calls during their break periods.  The judge reasoned that the employees were required to stay on site and perform work during their break periods, and used MA state regulations that define “on call” time as compensable working time in making his decision.  The judge further concluded that “working time” is unambiguous, and requires employees to be compensated unless the employee is “relieved of all work related duties”.

      The ruling can be appealed by the Defendant-Employer.  The ruling is contrary to the test used under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which looks at whether the meal break period is predominantly for the benefit of the employer or the employee to determine whether the employee must be paid.  It is unclear at this point whether this ruling will result in a further conflict between the Massachusetts Wage Act and Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

      Employers will want to review their meal break policies to ensure compliance as the Massachusetts Wage Act contains severe penalties for failing to pay employee wages, including treble damages and attorneys fees.

If you have any questions regarding the Massachusetts Wage Act, Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or any other matter involving Wage and Hour Law, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C.

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