I cannot tell you the number of times that an employee has approached me and threatened to go to the Department of Labor because they were not allowed to take their fifteen (15) minute snack or smoke break and/or their meal period. They are surprised when I tell them that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which regulates hours worked, does not require those popular breaks or meal periods.
While the Law does not require these coveted breaks, it does require that they count as compensable, or paid time. Employee’s should remember is that such breaks are a privilege, not a right, so if there employer offers them, they are required to adhere strictly to the stipulations that their employer has established regarding the length of time away from the work area. It employees fail to do so, they can be subject to corrective action if they repeatedly extend their breaks without their supervisor’s approval. On the other hand, meal breaks are for the purpose of completely relieving the employee from work for at least thirty minutes, so that they may eat a regular meal. Because meal breaks are different than snack or smoke breaks, they are considered non work time and are therefore unpaid. The Law requires that an employee who answers phones, responds to emails, or performs almost any work-related duties while on “meal break,” is working while eating and should be compensated by their employer for that time worked.
Some states have their own regulations regarding rest periods and breaks. For a state-by-state breakdown of work breaks or mealtime, visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/breaks_statelaws.
For more information on this topic, visit the US Department of Labor’s website at https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workhours/breaks.
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