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October 15, 2012

Give Me A Break

Filed under: Compensation,Compliance,General HR Buzz,Salaries & Pay — Tags: 6:00 am

Whether you need to take a short walk or grab a smoke, many workers look forward to that mid-morning or mid-afternoon break.  After all, employers are required to give employees breaks, right?

Surprisingly, the answer to that question is “no”, at least when referencing federal law.  Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and considered in determining if overtime was worked. Unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks need not be counted as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished. Bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes), serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, thus, are not work time and are not compensable.

You should check your state’s laws regarding breaks as a number of states do require employers to allow workers to take periodic breaks for meals or to rest; the number and timing of these breaks generally depends on the number of hours worked.

The DOL has more information regarding breaks, including compensable hours.   You can read more about this topic by clicking here.

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