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Learn the laws for employee breaks.

Guidelines for Providing Employee Meal and Rest Breaks

Offering rest breaks to employees is important. We all need to rest every once in awhile. Regular employee breaks can boost workplace morale and productivity.

In 2014, Staples did a survey about employee breaks. The survey found that 86% of workers acknowledge that taking a break would make them more productive . Breaks would also increase 59% of the workers’ happiness while on the clock.

Giving breaks to employees certainly has benefits. But before you create a policy for employee breaks, you need to know the laws.

Rest breaks

Rest breaks usually last about five to 20 minutes. You should include rest breaks in the total time an employee works. If rest breaks cause an employee to work overtime, you must pay the employee overtime wages.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the rules for rest breaks. Even though the FLSA defines rest breaks, federal law does not require you to provide employees with rest breaks.

Meal breaks

Meal breaks are typically 30 minutes or longer. You do not have to pay employees for meal breaks. You also do not have to include meal breaks in the total time employees work.

There is a catch when it comes to meal breaks. If an employee does any kind of work during the meal break, you must pay the employee for the break. The break will also count toward the total time the employee works. Even if the employee does something as simple as answering emails or phone calls, you must compensate them.

The FLSA also sets the rules for meal breaks. Once again, federal law does not require you to provide employees with meal breaks.

Other types of employee breaks

Rest breaks and meal breaks are the two main types of employee breaks that you might offer. But, there are many other types of employee breaks that you should know about.

Bathroom breaks

Unlike other kinds of breaks, you must provide employees with bathroom breaks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says employees must have access to toilet facilities. Also, you cannot force employees to follow a certain schedule for bathroom breaks.

Smoke breaks

If you have employees who smoke, they might want to have more frequent breaks. You are not required to give them breaks to smoke. But, you can grant extra breaks to employees who smoke.

If you do provide smoke breaks, you should be fair to all your employees. Your employees who do not smoke might view the smoke breaks as unfair because they do not get extra breaks. If you do offer smoke breaks, you might want to offer extra breaks to non-smokers as well.

If employees take unauthorized breaks to smoke, you are not required to pay them or count the time toward their total time worked. However, if the smoke breaks are short rest breaks, you should pay employees and count the time as hours worked.

Breaks for health issues

An employee might have a health issue that requires frequent breaks. If an employee has a health issue that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must provide the employee with “reasonable accommodation.” This means you will have to make adjustments to accommodate the employee.

For example, an employee has diabetes and needs to take additional breaks to eat and to check their sugar and insulin levels. You should permit the employee to take the additional breaks to tend to their health needs.

You do not have to make accommodations for an employee’s health needs if the accommodations would cause you “undue hardship.” This means the accommodation would cause you significant difficulty or expense.

If an employee needs additional breaks to care for their health needs, make sure you have open communication with them. Find out exactly what the employee needs to be accommodated. You might also be able to work out a compromise with the employee. For example, you might allow the employee to take extra breaks, but you might also require the employee to work more to make up that time.

Breaks for religious practices

Employees might ask you for additional breaks to practice their religion. They might want to have extra time for prayers or religious readings.

You can provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation as long as it doesn’t cause undue hardship for you.

You might also ask the employee to make up the time taken for breaks to practice their religion. Or, you could ask the employee to use the breaks that you already provide.

Breaks for nursing mothers

You are required to provide nursing mothers with breaks so they can express breast milk. You do not have to pay the employees for this time. You also do not have to count this time toward the employee’s hours worked.

State employee break laws

Even though the FLSA does not require you to provide rest and meal breaks, your state’s laws might.

Several states require employers to provide employees with 30-minute meal breaks. For example, employees in Massachusetts who work more than six hours are entitled to a half-hour meal break.

Some states also require employers to provide employees with a rest break by the time they work a certain number of hours. For example, employees in Kentucky should receive a 10-minute rest break for each four-hour period they work.

Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website to find information on your state’s rest break and meal break laws.

Breaks for youth employees

Many states have laws about when you have to give breaks to employees who are under 18 years old. Most times, the breaks you have to provide to minors are more frequent than the breaks you must give to adult employees. The breaks vary by state, so you should check your state’s laws.

Creating an employee break policy

You should create a policy for employee breaks. This will help employees know what is offered to them. A clear policy will also help you enforce your business’s rules.

When you create a policy for employee breaks, make sure you follow federal and state laws.

You will also want to consider the needs of your employees. For example, if a majority of your employees need additional breaks for religious practices, you might want to work these types of breaks into your policy.

You should also consider how far away your business is from other businesses. If it takes 10 minutes to drive to the closest restaurant, a 30-minute lunch break might not be long enough.

No matter what you decide to include in your employee break policy, make sure you communicate the rules to your employees.

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