Articles Posted in Meal Breaks

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Like many companies, Macy’s Department Stores use outside cleaning companies to clean the stores after hours. In Minnesota, a federal court granted the cleaning crew members’ request for class certification against one of these outside cleaning companies so that other crew members could join the failure to pay and overtime lawsuit. The cleaners allege that the cleaning company routinely failed to pay them minimum wage and overtime as well as failed to pay for time worked through meal breaks. One employee alleged that one of her paychecks resulted in pay of just over $4 per hour. The cleaners also alleged that the cleaning company allotted a set amount of time to clean each store and if the cleaners took more time than allotted they were not paid for the extra time.

While the federal court has yet ruled on whether the cleaning company is liable for unpaid wages and overtime, it did rule that the case could proceed as a collective action and other employees would be permitted to join the case. The court stated:

The FLSA authorizes employees to bring a collective action against employers for minimum wage and overtime violations. Courts have discretion, in “appropriate cases,” to facilitate the opt-in process by conditionally certifying a class and authorizing court-supervised notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs. To proceed with a collective action, plaintiffs must demonstrate that they are similarly situated to the proposed FLSA class. Determining whether plaintiffs are similarly situated to the proposed class requires a two-step inquiry. First, the court determines whether the class should be conditionally certified for notification and discovery purposes. The plaintiffs need only establish at that time a colorable basis for their claim that the putative class members were the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan. Determination of class status at the notice stage is granted liberally because the court has minimal evidence for analyzing the class.

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Nowadays, many employers use an automatic 30-minute meal period deduction in its time keeping program that automatically deducts 30 minutes of time per shift. Sometimes, employees do not even realize that their employer is deducting 30 minutes from their time cards each day. However, what happens when an employee continues to work through these 30 minute meal breaks? While federal courts have ruled that automatic meal break time keeping programs do not per se violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the burden remains solely on the employer to maintain accurate records of its employees’ hours.

Federal courts have held that where an employer knows or has reason to believe that an employee is continuing to work through the meal break, the time must be considered working time. Where an employer knows or has reason to believe an employee is working through meal breaks, the employer cannot stand idly by and allow an employee to perform overtime work without proper compensation – even if the employee does not make a claim for the overtime compensation.

Employees should carefully review their time records to make sure the records accurately show the hours that they worked. If their employer is automatically deducting meal breaks from the time records and the employee is not actually taking a break, the employee could not only be entitled to lost wages and overtime pay but also liquidated damages (“double damages”) and attorneys’ fees and costs.