In late August, 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announced that The Walt Disney Company has agreed to pay backpay in the amount of $433,333.00 to 69 inventory control clerks in its food and beverage department.  This was for work done before and after the employees’ regular shifts, during meal times, and when working from home.

            Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), employers can provide unpaid breaks and mealtimes to non-exempt employees. In most situations, the breaks need to be at least thirty (30) minutes in order to satisfy the FLSA’s requirement that the employee have sufficient time to pursue non-work activities. Shorter breaks will be considered compensable working time.

            Also, for the break to be considered non-compensable, the employee must be completely relieved of all working duties.  An employee who performs work-related duties during his/her break, even voluntarily and upon his/her own initiative, must be compensated for that time.

            In order to avoid such a situation, an employer should consider requiring (or at least strongly advising) employees to take their breaks away from their normal working area. The company’s employee handbook should also clearly state that during such unpaid breaks, employees are not to engage in any work activity.