What all Hourly Employees Need to Know About Breaks
Know what the law says about compensation for meal and rest periods
Do you often find that your meal breaks are only a few minutes, yet you get charged for a full half-hour?
Are you expected to answer phones or monitor the front desk during your
unpaid lunch period?
Unfortunately, these situations aren’t uncommon for many hourly workers. The upshot is that employers get extra work out of their staffers, while staffers may be getting shortchanged over time they should’ve been paid for.
Situations such as these may be considered unlawful wage theft in some circumstances.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know to ensure you’re being compensated in accordance with the law.
Breaks not guaranteed
The first thing that’s important to know is that federal law does not guarantee most hourly employees any specific breaks for meals, rest, or other reasons.
Some, but not all, states and municipalities may have their own laws governing breaks.
However, many employers offer breaks to non-exempt workers anyway. Most employers probably recognize the obvious benefits of allowing people to eat meals during long shifts, or to take a few minutes of downtime.
In any case, when employers choose to offer breaks, federal law spells out how those breaks must be handled.
Different kinds of breaks
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), some breaks do not need to be compensated, while others do.
For example, short breaks ranging from five to 20 minutes must be compensated and must be calculated into overtime pay. In general, these breaks must be paid so that workers aren’t forced to clock out before visiting the restroom or taking a quick coffee break.
Meal breaks are a different story. Federal law generally defines meal breaks as lasting 30 minutes or more and they generally do not have to be compensated.
Again, companies are not required to offer meal breaks.
However, if companies do offer meal breaks, the law states that all work must cease during that time. That even includes passive activities such as waiting for deliveries, monitoring equipment, or answering phones.
That means that if you’re required to do any work-related activity during a meal break, you might be legally entitled to compensation for that break period.
When laws collide
As we mentioned before, your employer may also be bound by state laws governing breaks. If those laws differ from federal law, your employer is obligated to follow the law that provides the most benefit to employees.
If you believe that you were unfairly denied compensation over breaks, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.