According to the Fair Labor Standard Act, if an employee works more than 40 hours per week, he or she is entitled to overtime pay for those additional hours. This is universally understood and it is rare for an employer to overtly deny its employees this right. However, some companies may avoid an employee rights violation by working around this requirement. Instead of denying overtime, an employer might take measures to ensure that its employees stay within the regular 40 hours.
A class action lawsuit has recently been filed against AT&T for just such behavior. According to an attorney for the plaintiffs, the telecommunications company has been forcing its employees to work, without pay, during their lunch breaks. If the employees were compensated for their work, they would exceed 40 hours and AT&T would have to pay overtime.
The workers are not forced to work, per se, but they are subjected to heavy restrictions while on break. For example, they may be prohibited from going home, from leaving their vehicles, from traveling more than a half-mile for lunch, or from listening to music or reading the newspaper. According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, such a break is no break at all, and employees should be paid for their time.
There is no federal law that requires employers to give their employees lunch breaks. However, if breaks are to be provided, they should be largely unrestricted, the plaintiffs argue. California is the only state to legally mandate that employers provide at least a 30-minute break for any employee who works more than five hours at a time. Employers are not obligated to ensure that employees take their breaks, only that they are aware of them.
AT&T has responded to the lawsuit via a spokesperson statement. According to the spokesperson, the company is dedicated to complying with all laws and regulations regarding employee rights, including wage and hour laws.
Source: Huffington Post, “Indiana AT&T Technicians File Class Action Lawsuit Citing Grim Break Conditions,” Meredith Bennett-Smith, Aug. 16, 2012