Ed Alonso worked for Akal Security, Incorporated (“Akal”) as an Aviation Security Officer (“ASO”). ASO’s supervise people being deported from the United States during domestic travel between holding facilities and international travel to the deportees’ home countries. Once deportees are transported to their home countries, ASO’s take a return flight to the United States.
Akal’s policy provided for a one-hour unpaid meal period on certain return flights when no deportees were present. It also instructed ASO’s to completely disengage from all work activities during the meal period, and to record any time worked if special circumstances made it necessary for them to work during the meal period.
Mr. Alonso’s contention was that he was not paid overtime wages accrued during the unpaid meal periods on designated return flights. His claims, however, appeared to confuse the FLSA’s rules regarding work performed while traveling and the rule on bona fide meal periods.
The FLSA requires that employees be compensated for all hours worked. Generally, “the term “hours worked” includes: (a) All time during which an employee is required to be on duty or to be on the employer’s premises or at a prescribed workplace and (b) all time during which an employee is suffered or permitted to work whether or not he is required to do so.” 29 CFR § 778.223. “Working time is not limited to the hours spent in active productive labor, but includes time given by the employee to the employer even though part of the time may be spent in idleness.” Id.
Work performed during travel time (or sometimes just traveling itself) is included in the calculation of hours worked, but there are exceptions. Relevant to Mr. Alonso’s claim, “[a]n employee who drives a truck, bus, automobile, boat or airplane, or an employee who is required to ride therein as an assistant or helper, is working while riding, except during bona fide meal periods or when he is permitted to sleep in adequate facilities furnished by the employer.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.41.
Thus, bona fide meal periods do not count as hours worked. This is true whether someone is working in flight or under more typical circumstances. Under the FLSA, “[b]ona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.19. “The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating.” Id. But “[i]t is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.” Id.
Mr. Alonso’s claim broke down because the court reviewing his claim could not find any evidence that he performed work during the unpaid meal periods. He never recorded or reported working during an unpaid meal period, nor could he recall any such work he performed. He also testified at deposition that he always had at least one hour of free time on the return trips at issue. Nonetheless, Mr. Alonso argued that he was required to be on the return flight, regardless of the presence of deportees, and that he was not free to leave the aircraft or engage in whatever personal activity he wanted. These arguments may be good reasons for the travel time to be compensated, but they do not address the exception for unpaid meal periods permitted by the FLSA.
On March 12, 2019, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the employer.
Alonzo v. Akal Security Incorporated, No. 2:2017cv00836 (D. Ariz. 2019)