Out to Lunch: Best Practices for Rest and Meal Periods
How many breaks you have to provide and whether those breaks are paid varies from state-to-state. Generally, meal periods are unpaid and not required. Rest periods, however, are paid work time and are considered to be around 5 to 20 minutes. Assuming that you are in one of the many states that follow these general rules, what are the best practices?
For hourly employees and salary non-exempt employees, you should institute clear policies that ensure that the meal period is a complete break from work. Whether the break is 30 minutes or an hour will depend upon your custom and practice at work. A common mistake employers make is automatically deducting the customary meal period every day. If your employee is working through lunch, you may end up owing overtime. The best practices are:
- Clearly communicating your lunch policy in writing;
- Provide a method for employees to report that a lunch break was not taken; and
- Review payroll records to determine whether workload issues are affecting meal periods.
Most employees will also take periodic rests throughout the day to step outside for a smoking break or to take a personal phone call. It is good for employee morale and efficiency purposes to provide periodic rest breaks. However, because these rests are paid, the best practices are:
- Clearly communicating in writing how many rest periods are customary and for how long they generally can occur;
- Prohibiting tacking a rest period onto an unpaid meal break to extend the meal period; and
- Evaluating your customs and practices to assess the costs rest periods are having on your business.
Your workplace practices vary as much as the state laws governing them. Before implementing any new policies, evaluate your customs and practices. An assessment will give you an opportunity to evaluate your costs and audit for any wage and hour violations.
Do you want help with a wage and hour audit or drafting a rest/meal period policy? Contact an MBA HR Consultant.