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I'm Hungry - Aren't Lunch Breaks Required?

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I'm Hungry - Aren't Lunch Breaks Required?

By NicoleD
Published: May 11, 2009 Updated: September 3, 2015

Understanding your legal obligations as an employer as well as your employees’ legal rights is key to running a successful business. Read on for guidelines on what the law states about employment hour standards and general best practices.As an employer, there are two guiding pieces of legislation on employment hours that you should familiarize yourself with - the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Both provide guidance for employers on the rules and regulations that govern employee rights and labor laws with regards vacation and sick leave, meal and other breaks, as well as flex time. 

1. Holidays, Vacation, and Sick Leave
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the FLSA does not require that employees are paid for time off work, including sick days, vacations, or federal holidays. While it is common for employers to grant paid time off (PTO) as a benefit of employment, it is not required by law. (Note – for government contractor employers PTO may be required*) Employers subject to the FMLA are required to provide unpaid sick leave for up to 12 weeks for certain medical situations. Details on how to comply with FMLA are available from the U.S. Department of Labor. The federal FMLA Final Rule went into effect in January 2009. The U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of comparing the new federal rule to various state standards. In the meantime, you can review information about individual state family and medical leave laws, on state Web pages with similar statutes, such as CaliforniaConnecticutHawaii MaineMinnesota ,New JerseyOregonRhode IslandVermontWashington,Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia

2. Meals and Breaks
To avoid legal hassles, employers should expressly convey what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable, in terms of breaks. In most industries, authorized breaks of 20 minutes or less are commonly recognized as hours worked, and therefore paid as working time. If employees are taking unauthorized breaks, or unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks, as an employer 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.) Meal periods, typically regarded as 30 minutes+, may not require compensation as time worked if the employee is not engaged in any work duties. Complications may arise if employees perform work tasks while eating, such as regularly answering emails or phone calls. Situations like these, in which workers are performing work duties while eating, must be counted and paid as compensable hours worked, since the employee is not fully removed from their duties. Even though meal periods and breaks are not required under the FLSA, there may be standards that apply on a state-by-state basis

3. Flex Time 
The current FLSA doesn’t address flexible work schedule policies, which modify traditional nine to five, 40-hour work weeks by allowing employees to vary their work hours. Alternative work schedules are still a fairly modern idea, and since there is no overriding guidance yet, these arrangements are generally agreed upon by employers, employees, and employee representatives in the terms of employment. If you’re interested in more information on employee rights and protection laws, here are some related resources:

*The McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) and the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts

Message Edited by BobK on 05-11-2009 12:48 PM

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That was a nice read NicoleD.  Every employee should have those rights and every employer should grant them as well.
That was a nice read NicoleD.  Every employee should have those rights and every employer should grant them as well.
Tyler - Thanks for your comment. We're so glad you found these references useful!
Excellent - This is a common question that is brought to my attention on a regular basis. This is a great reference point for employees and employers curious about the rules and guidelines of employee breaks. Tyler GhellerLos Angeles Lawyer & Attorney Message Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 12:12 PM

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