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Meal Break Time and Rest Breaks Under the FLSA


It may come as a surprise that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide meal or rest periods. But employers can still get in trouble in these areas. Here is a general explanation of the applicable rules.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Under federal law, short breaks (usually lasting between 5 and 20 minutes) are compensable work hours.

In other words, they count as hours worked and must be paid. If an employee extends a break period without authorization, the unauthorized time need not be paid — as long as the employer clearly tells its employees:

  • how long the authorized break lasts
  • that any extension of the authorized period of time is against the rules, and
  • that employees who extend the break without authorization will be punished.

Do not bug me while I eat

Meal periods are different. They usually last at least 30 minutes, and they are not paid time.

To be deducted from work time, employees must be entirely relieved of work duties during this time. If they are not, the time must be paid.

Example: An employee is told that he gets a 30-minute meal period, but is also told to remain at his desk during that time in case he gets a work-related call. Because the employee is not completely relieved of work responsibilities during the 30-minute period, it is not a bona fide meal period. For that reason, the time must be paid.

Though employees must be relieved of work duties during meal periods for the meal period time to be deducted, a requirement that they remain on the premises does not make the meal period payable.

Instead, federal regulations specifically say employers may require employees to remain on workplace premises during meal periods.

Keep this guiding principle in mind: Employers must pay employees for time they "suffer or permit" them to work. This means that if employers know or should know an employee is working, they must pay them for the time worked.

If they do not, a substantial penalty may be in store.

Posted In: Department of Labor (DOL); Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); Workplace Policies/Rules

Want to know more? Read the full article by at HR Morning

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