Break Periods

Editor's Note: Employee breaks aren't always breaks from pay.

Michael CardmanOverview: Federal law does not require employers to provide employees meal or rest breaks. But several states have laws that require employers to offer meal and/or rest breaks.

Employers that do provide meal or rest breaks generally must pay employees for that time, unless they:

  1. are not required to do so by the state in which they are operating, and
  2. comply with federal requirements for unpaid meal and rest breaks.

Employers often are tripped up on the requirement that employees must be completely relieved from duty for a meal or rest break to be unpaid. So, if an employee performs even the slightest bit of work during a break, such as answering a phone call, the employee must then be paid for the entire break time.

Also, new mothers must be provided reasonable unpaid break time to express milk for a nursing child.

Trends: Many employers are reconsidering their policies of automatically deducting time for meal or rest breaks from employee paychecks in the wake of a series of lawsuits by groups of employees who claimed they were actually working during the breaks.

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

New and Updated