Q. We give employees the choice of using two 10-minute breaks each day or combining them into one 20-minute lunch break. The employees are required to punch out and in for these breaks. We also have a policy that docks employees 15 minutes if they’re four or more minutes late returning from a break. Is this legal?
A. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (), breaks 20 minutes or fewer typically must be counted as hours worked and must be paid. Bona fide meal breaks more than 20 minutes generally do not need to be paid, but the employee must be completely relieved of all duties during this break time.
With regard to docking, you must payfor all time worked.
However, the FLSA allows rounding of an employee’s starting and stopping time, assuming that the rounding does not always benefit the employer. The rounding method must “average out.”
For example, if the employer has a pay system that only records the nearest quarter of an hour and pays in 15-minute increments, the employer can round up or down depending on the increment. If the employee clocks in at 9:08, he will be paid for time beginning at 9:15. If he clocks in at 9:07, he will be paid for time beginning at 9:00.
The employer could also adopt a policy where it rounds down at the start of the shift if the employees are late, but rounds up at the end of the shift favoring the employee. Either method is fine as long as the rounding does not always benefit the employer.