The Connecticut Appellate Court, in a decision officially released next week, ruled that limousine drivers (“chauffeurs” if you must) are not entitled to be paid during their meal breaks.
If the case, Belgada v. Hy’s Livery Service, Inc. sounds familiar, that’s because I covered the lower court’s decision rejecting the drivers’ claims back in 2021. The post is worth a read to understand the background of the case.
Having lost at the lower court, the drivers appealed and lost again. (The drivers’ federal wage claims were also dismissed in an earlier proceeding as well.)
So how did the Court arrive at its’ decision? It noted that the majority of courts that have looked at similar issues have applied the “predominant benefit” test, which is recognized as a “more flexible approach”.
“The predominant benefit test examines whether the employee is performing activities during his or her meal break that are predominantly for the benefit of the employee.”
The court said that test should apply here and not a test that looked only at whether the employees were “completely relieved” of their duties during their meal breaks.
The drivers then argued that the company’s policies required them to “guard” their limousines and remain within two miles of their next pickup. Thus, they argued, their meal breaks were predominantly for the benefit of the employer.
The court concluded that pursuant to the state’s wage and hour law, a meal break is not an “hour worked” unless the “employee is required or permitted to work” during that break.
Ultimately, part of the decision rests on a deep dive into the meaning and words of the state’s wage/hour law — something that only an employment law lawyer might find interesting.
But for employers who are looking at this, the court also looked at what the drivers were actually doing during their breaks.
One driver stated that he would go to malls, convenience stores, restaurants and offtrack betting. And while the employees were expected to engage in some activities during the meal breaks, such activities did not transform the meal breaks into compensable time. Being on a smartphone was just not enough for the court.
The case is an important one because it outlines to employers in all types of contexts what is permitted during meal breaks. If you are having employees do sporadic work that benefits your workplace during their meal breaks, then a court may now find that they are entitled to be paid for “work” during their meal breaks.
Breaks should be just that: breaks. Make sure you not only have a policy but that your policy is enforced in practice as well.
I talked about this more in a separate prior post here.