Legal Briefing: Locking Down Best Practices on Prison Breaks

By Staff Report

Feb. 2, 2016

A collective bargaining agreement between Butler County, Pennsylvania, and correctional officers for the Butler County Prison provides that the employees receive a one-hour lunch break, of which 45 minutes are paid and 15 minutes are not. A collective action of correctional officers sued Butler County alleging that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they should be compensated for that 15 minutes because, during that time, they cannot leave the prison and must remain in uniform. After the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissed the case, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the “predominant benefit test,” which has also been adopted by the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th circuits, and which weighs the benefits each side gets from the break to determine if the employee should be compensated. In upholding the decision, the court held that “although plaintiffs face a number of restrictions during their meal period … on balance, these restrictions did not predominantly benefit the employer.” Babcock v. Butler County, No. 14-1467 3rd Cir. (Nov. 24, 2015).

Impact: In determining whether employees should be compensated during restricted meal breaks, employers should carefully weigh whether the employee is primarily engaged in work-related activities during the break.     

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. To comment, email

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