Meal Breaks According to Law

As a business owner or manager, it is important to understand laws affecting employment, especially as they pertain to employee meal breaks. Providing proper lunch breaks not only boosts productivity and employee engagement, it keeps your business compliant.

Federal and state laws pertain to lunch breaks; therefore it’s important to understand both.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide meal breaks, however it outlines when those breaks must be paid. The general rule is that employers are not required to pay employees for “bona fide” meal periods. “Bona fide” meal periods require that employees are completely relieved from duty (this does not, however, require that employees vacate the premises during the break). In order to be unpaid, meal periods should be at least 30 minutes in length.

Furthermore, FLSA regulations (found at 29 C.F.R. §785.19) emphasize that if an employee is required to perform any duties (whether active or inactive) during the break, he or she is not to be considered “relieved.”

In addition to FLSA regulations, Pennsylvania has state laws defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. According to state law, Pennsylvania employers are required to provide a 30-minute break period to employees ages 14-17 who work five or more consecutive hours (Child Labor Law, Act of 1915, P.L. 286, No. 177, Section 4). However, employers are not required to give breaks for employees 18 and older.

But, according to state law, if an employer chooses to provide breaks, and the breaks last less than 20 minutes, they must be paid. If the break lasts longer than 20 minutes and the employee does not work during the period, it is not required to be paid (Pennsylvania Code §231.1).

When examining your company’s meal break policy, there are a few topics to consider and include in your employee handbook or manual.

1. How long are your meal breaks?

Based on Pennsylvania state law, there is flexibility associated with providing meal breaks and the lengths of these breaks. Look at what works for your company. Is 30 minutes appropriate or would 60 minutes be more so? Does your organization operate on shifts or continuously? If so, other arrangements may be necessary.

2. Are your breaks “bona fide?”

To provide unpaid breaks, employees must not do any work during the period. Ensure that your employees are not completing any work whatsoever. If you fail to uphold this policy, your organization may be required to pay back wages, overtime or worse.

3. Are your breaks accommodating?

Take the time to ensure your break policy is flexible so that employee special requests can be accommodated. Disabled employees who are covered by the Americans with Disability Act may require more frequent breaks.

Meal breaks are important and often expected by employees. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your company’s policy conforms to state and federal law.

Have questions about your company’s break policy? Contact employment lawyer Michael Hynum today. Attorney Hynum has the experience needed to provide assistance and legal advice as it pertains to breaks and other workplace policies.