On July 3, 2013, Audet and Partners LLP brought a class action lawsuit in a Tennessee federal court alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as specific state laws, against Dollar General Store. The plaintiffs alleged that Dollar General allowed them to take meal breaks, but did not allow them to leave the store in which they were employed because they were supervisors who held keys to the premises.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that prohibits certain wage and hour violations. Specifically pertinent in this case is section 785.19 of the Act. It states that “bona fide meal periods,” or true meal periods, are not part of “worktime.” Furthermore, these meal breaks are not meant for short coffee or snack breaks. Rather, they are rest periods during which an employee must be completely relieved of his or her work duties. In general, meal periods must be at least thirty minutes in duration, but under special circumstances, they may be shorter with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Despite the length or what an employee chooses to do during his or her meal period, he is entitled to one. He may not be asked to perform any duties. If he or she is asked to perform any type of work, a bona fide meal period has not actually been provided. The statute makes this clear by stating, “The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive.” Applying the facts of the Dollar General case, an employee cannot be forced to eat lunch on the premises simply because they have a key or are in a supervisory role. While perhaps not actively performing job duties during his or her meal period, Dollar Store employees being forced to stay on site have likely been inactively performing work by making themselves available to other employees during their meal breaks. For this reason, Dollar General is alleged to have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.