Taking breaks can be good for productivity, focus and even morale, but most employees are surprised to know that Federal law doesn’t give adult employees (18 and older) the right to take a break. Although many Florida employers do provide meal and rest breaks, they are not required to offer breaks at all.
Of course, most employers recognize that an employee who is tired and hungry is neither productive nor a joy to be around, so breaks are offered through company policy. Even though the breaks themselves are not mandated, employers are required to pay for an employee’s time during short breaks. Breaks of 20 minutes or less require that an employee be paid.
Many employers do not pay employees for meal breaks, which are most often greater than 20 minutes and therefore do not require payment. However, Federal law requires that if an employee works through their meal they must be paid. For example, if your front desk staff are covering the phones while eating lunch at their desk, they must be paid. If your service representative is eating in the car while driving from one customer to another, this too must be paid. Even though this time may be referred to as a “lunch break,” if the employee is still working then they are entitled to be paid. Meal breaks are only unpaid when an employee is relieved of all job duties.
To avoid misunderstandings or abuse of paid breaks it is important to clearly communicate your break policy guidelines. For example, you will need to specifically talk about the frequency and length of allowed breaks. You may also want to define break limits so that those who smoke are not taking frequent (paid) breaks while non-smoking employees are not.
More information about Federal requirements for breaks and meal periods can be found here.