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Meal and Rest Breaks – What Small Business Employers Need to Know

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Meal and Rest Breaks – What Small Business Employers Need to Know

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 23, 2013

Should you pay employees for rest and meal breaks? Are you even required to offer such breaks?

We all need rest and meals during work hours and the law stipulates standards for these breaks, including whether your employees should be paid for them. Here’s what you need to know:

Federal Wage and Hour Laws

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of the U.S. Department of Labor, non-exempt employees can take short breaks (although it’s not mandatory). A short break is typically considered to be 20 minutes or less, and employees must be paid for these as hours worked. When it comes to meal breaks, anything more than 30 minutes does not generally need to be compensated as work time (although again, meal breaks aren’t required under federal law). But here’s the caveat – if your employee does any kind of work during that meal break, such as answering email or taking a business phone call, then you must pay them for that break.

Bathroom breaks, which are required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are excluded from the definition of rest breaks.

To avoid any legal hassles, be sure you communicate your break policy to employees. For example, employers have been known to come under the spotlight for permitting certain workers to take frequent (paid) cigarette breaks, while other employees do not. If employees are taking unauthorized breaks, or unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks, you are not required to count the unauthorized time as hours worked (so long as the terms of what is authorized/unauthorized have been expressly communicated to employees).

State Wage and Hour Laws

Even though meal and rest breaks aren’t required under federal law, some states do impose mandatory breaks for employees in specific industries after a certain amount of hours worked. For example, in California, a meal break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. So giving employees the option of skipping lunch to get out of work early is breaking the law.

Generally, state laws stipulate a 30-minute paid meal break. For laws in your state, check this consolidated breakdown of state meal break requirements and rest break laws from the Department of Labor. You can also refer to your individual state labor office.

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

Excellent article. I think my employees need to read this article. Thanks
Normally meal break are required if the staff's working hour is more then 5, and rest break will normally be included along with meal break. Staff will also need to be brief and understand what are the company's policy and regulation is regarding this sensitive issue to ensure healthy working relationship between the staff and management.
Something new learned from an SBA blog; I always thought that 1-hour meal breaks were the law.
Relevant topic, since most of the employee suffer with the dilemma with their basic right related to having meal & rest during working hours. Which is pretty important to keep employees rejuvenated & fresh even after much hectic day. Also it is better to deals with authorized breaks carefully rather the much required breaks that a employees needs for a better result in workplace.
I think employer should give frequent breaks to employees. It actually helps in better productivity. A dull mind can’t do good work. Breaks help to keep the person energetic and stay active.
Thanks for the informative article on employee guidelines. This is one of the differences between employees and consultants. Consultants take lunch on their own time... or if they work through it, they do request payment. But then again, they are paid by the hour (less frequently) or by the project.
Very good topic. First of all it's good to know the legal requirements, also good to see the comments on providing just a little extra for your employees!! I believe like google and Facebook that if you provide that little extra you get a much more willingly productive employee!!
Very interesting......
I'v personally been a part of a company that knew it had some wrongdoing when it came to rest and breaks, I found it extremely frustrating to climb up the chain of command to finally manage and make a change in the company. Glad I don't work there anymore.
Very interesting... We give our workers 45mins per day... Works out that employees are more perform better with a lunchtime 45mins or more for us !

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