The Seventh Circuit recently issued a ruling dramatically changing the manner in which wage and hour claims involving “bona fide” meal periods in Wisconsin will be handled going forward. Prior to Wirth, plaintiffs’ lawyers had argued in litigation that Wisconsin’s administrative code required employers to pay employees for the an entire meal period, whether the employee was working or not, that lasted less than 30 minutes. (See, Wis. Admin. Code, Dep’t of Workforce Dev. § 272.12.) For example, if an employee took a meal period lasting 20 minutes (and did not work) and clocked in 10 minutes before the end of the meal period, Wisconsin plaintiffs’ lawyers would argue that the employee would be entitled to 30 minutes of pay.
The Seventh Circuit held in Wirth that the proper question is to focus on whether an employer provides a meal period of 30 minutes or more, not whether an employee chose to take a meal period shorter than 30 minutes. In Wirth, the court determined, based on the facts in that case, that the plaintiff clocked back in to work of her own accord before the end of her hour-long meal period. Accordingly, the plaintiff was not entitled to pay for the time she was off the clock during her meal periods that lasted less than 30 minutes because the employer provided more than 30 minutes.
While this ruling appears straightforward, there are a number of caveats to providing a bona fide meal period. Additionally, this case was decided in federal court and is not binding upon Wisconsin courts at this time. Be sure to contact an attorney if you are facing questions regarding wage and hour issues in the work place.