Federal law doesn’t require employers to provide breaks for rest or meals. However it does regulate how breaks are provided and compensated. State law also often provides additional employee protections regarding break time requirements.
Most federal regulations derive from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies to all employers in defined areas, regardless of how many employees the employer has. This is different than many federal laws that cover workplace standards. The FLSA does not protect many salaried employees.
Breaks & meal periods: When employers offer short breaks between 5 and 20 minutes, federal law considers these compensable work hours included in the sum of hours worked and considered when determining overtime. 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,
- 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 are not compensable as work time.
Sleeping time and certain other activities: An employee on duty for less than 24 hours is working even though he/she is permitted to sleep or engage in other personal activities when not busy. An employee on duty for 24 hours or more may agree to exclude bona fide, regularly scheduled sleeping periods of not more than 8 hours from hours worked. This is provided that adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer and the employee can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep. No reduction is permitted unless the employee sleeps a minimum of 5 hours.
Lectures, meetings and training programs: Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time, but only if four criteria are met: it is outside normal hours, it is voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed.
Home-to-Work Travel: An employee who travels from home before the regular workday and returns to his/her home at the end of the workday is engaged in ordinary home-to-work travel, which is not considered work time.
Home-to-work on a special one-day assignment in another city: An employee who regularly works at a fixed location is given a special one-day assignment in another city and returns home the same day. The time spent in traveling to, and returning from, the other city is considered work time. However, the the employer may deduct, or not count the time that the employee would normally spend commuting to the regular work site.
Travel that is all in a day’s work: Time spent by employees traveling as part of their principal activity, such as driving from job site to job site during the workday, is work time and must be counted as hours worked.
Problems arise when employers fail to recognize and count certain hours worked as compensable hours. For example, an employee who eats lunch at his/her desk and regularly answers the telephone and refers callers is working. This time must be counted and paid as compensable hours worked because the employee has not been completely relieved from duty.
These are some general guidelines. If you have additional questions or need help for your individual business situation, please contact your BCN Services Partnership Manager.
Debbie Strahle, Partnership Manager