Are You Legally Entitled to a Meal Break?
What all hourly employees should know
Do you know what the law says about meal and rest breaks?
If you don’t, you’re not alone. In fact, most workers have very limited information about what they’re entitled to when it comes to breaks—and often, that information is provided by their employers.
However, knowing your rights is important so you don’t end up getting shortchanged at the end of a pay period.
For example, if your company has an automated payroll system, you may be charged for a full 30-minute meal break every day, including the days you only have 10 minutes to eat. Over time, those minutes can add up and may even affect your eligibility for overtime.
Today, let’s discuss what the law says about meal and rest breaks.
What the law says
Many people are surprised to find out that federal law doesn’t specifically guarantee most people the right to a meal or rest break.
However, if employers choose to offer breaks, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates how those breaks are to be handled, including how long the breaks are and whether they are compensated or not.
Most types of breaks fall into two categories: rest breaks and meal breaks.
Rest breaks: usually on the clock
Going to the rest room, getting a drink, or making a phone call … all of these things may fall into the category of a “rest break.”
Rest breaks ranging from five to 20 minutes must be compensated, according to the FLSA. That means you cannot be forced to clock out if you have to use the restroom.
Because these breaks are on the clock, they can be included in your weekly work hours and applied toward overtime calculations.
Meal breaks: usually off the clock
The FLSA refers to breaks lasting 30 minutes or more as bona fide meal breaks.
These kinds of breaks may be uncompensated. So yes, it’s generally legal for your employer to ask you to clock out for a meal break.
However, the law dictates that all work must stop completely during meal breaks. That means you may not be asked to answer phones, wait for deliveries, or do any other passive or active work.
If you are required to work during your meal break, you may be legally entitled to be paid for that period.
If your meal break ends up being less than 20 minutes, you must be compensated for that time.
Other laws may apply
If your employer is also subject to state or local laws regarding breaks, it must follow the law that provides the most benefit to employees.
Because compensation issues depend on multiple federal, state, and local laws, parsing out what is owed to you can be difficult. Plus, employers may offer intentionally confusing explanations for shorting your paycheck in the hopes that you won’t pursue the matter.
That’s why it’s important to address your concerns with an experienced legal professional.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.