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When must lunch breaks be paid?

by on
in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Q. Our employee handbook says nonexempt retail em­­ployees can take an unpaid 30-minute lunch break. However, our store is often very busy and employees often take lunch breaks of only 10 to 15 minutes. Management doesn’t discipline employees for not taking the full break and often encourages “a quick lunch.” Should employees be paid? — J.R., Minnesota

A. Work that is not requested by the employer, but “suffered or permitted” by the employee is work time, and must be paid. For example, an employee who continues to voluntarily work at the end of the shift to finish a task must be compensated, especially if the employer knows or has reason to believe that the employee is continuing to work.

Federal law does not require meal or rest breaks (some states do). When employers offer shorter breaks, federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the workweek and considered in determining if overtime was worked.

Bona fide meal periods, which typically last about 30 minutes, serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks, and thus, are not work time and are not compensable. If an employee is required to work during a meal break or if an employer has reason to believe that an employee is continuing to work, that time should be compensated.

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