Sixth Circuit Holds That Security Guards’ Meal Periods Were Not Compensable, Despite Requirement That Guards Remain on Company Premises and Perform Work Duties

By:  Carrie S. Bryant

 

On January 7, 2015, the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion in Ruffin, et al. v. MotorCity Casino, No. 14-1444 (6th Cir. Jan. 7, 2015), addressing the issue whether
MotorCity Casino’s security guards, who were required to remain on company
property during meal periods, monitor two-way radios, and respond to emergencies,
spent their meal time predominantly for their own benefit or that of the casino.  If the Court determined that the security guards spent their meal time predominately for the benefit of MotorCity, the time would be compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”).  The Sixth Circuit concluded that the meal periods did not predominantly benefit the casino.  Therefore, the meal periods were not compensable.

In Ruffin, current and former security guards sued MotorCity Casino in district court, alleging that they were entitled to overtime payments under the FLSA because they worked over 40 hours per week, including their half hour meal periods.  The guards were free to eat, socialize with co-workers, use their cell phones, and play cards during their breaks.  However, MotorCity required the guards to stay on the casino’s premises, listen to their radios, and respond to dispatcher emergency calls during their meal time.

The district court determined that the radio monitoring activity was not a substantial job duty, and did not regularly disrupt the guards’ meal periods.  Therefore, the court held that the meal periods were non-compensable.  The guards appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

The Sixth Circuit analyzed three factors to determine whether the security guards’ meal times were in fact compensable: 1) whether the employees were “engaged in the performance of any substantial duties” during the meal periods, 2) whether MotorCity’s business regularly interrupted the employees’ meal periods, and 3) the employees’ inability to leave MotorCity’s property during meal breaks.

First, the Sixth Circuit determined that the security guards were not asked to perform substantial job duties during their meal periods.  Monitoring a radio did not qualify as a substantial job duty where the employees were also allowed to eat, read, socialize and conduct personal business during their meal times.  The security guards offered no  evidence that they were prevented from engaging in any of these activities, or that
monitoring two-way radios interfered with their enjoyment of these activities.

Second, the security guards did not produce evidence showing that their meal periods were regularly interrupted for emergency calls.  To the contrary, the evidence showed that
interruptions rarely ever occurred.  In fact, one employee recalled missing only one meal period in more than 10 years’ employment.

Lastly, a meal period is not compensable merely because an employee is required to remain on company premises for the entire meal period.  The question is whether employers require employees to stay on company property as a way of getting the employees to perform unpaid work.  Here, despite being required to stay on MotorCity’s grounds, the security guards were allowed to spend their meal periods the way that any off-duty employee would be allowed to spend a meal period, including surfing the Internet, socializing and eating.

The Ruffin case provides just one example of a circumstance in which it would be acceptable to require an employee to perform work duties during an uncompensated meal
period.  In this case, the Sixth Circuit evaluated the totality of the circumstances, and found that the security guards did not meet their burden of proving that they spent their meal periods primarily for the employer’s benefit.  Had MotorCity imposed greater duties and more restrictions on the security guards during meal periods, the case may have been decided differently.

As a result of this case, employers may want to evaluate which job duties they require employees to perform during meal periods to determine whether they should be compensated.  Employers are encouraged to consult with an experienced labor and
employment attorney, such as the author, to assess their meal and break policies.

This article was written by Carrie S. Bryant who is a member of the Legal Affairs Committee and an Attorney of the law firm of Dykema Gossett PLLC, located in its Bloomfield Hills, MI office.  She can be reached at (248) 203-0728 or cbryant@dykema.com.

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