Deducting meal periods from hourly employees’ pay is technically legal, but carries big legal risks. The problem: Employees who work during meal breaks, but don’t notify their employers until they file an overtime lawsuit.
Take note if you automatically deduct meal periods from your hourly employees’ total hours worked: Although those deductions don’t violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, they can be dangerous.
Why? Because it’s your organization’s responsibility to make sure no work is done during mealtimes. If employees sometimes work through their unpaid meal break—even if they just pick up a phone call during the break—you’ll owe them for that time.
That’s because the U.S. Department of Labor says you must pay for mealtimes unless the employee is “completely relieved” of his or her duties and not required to perform any work on the employer’s behalf during that time.
That means no phone calls, email checks or going over paperwork while “brown-bagging it” at the desk.
The safest approach is to require employees to log off their computers before going to lunch or dinner. Then, check to make sure they aren’t working off-the-clock.
Some companies force employees to take their meals somewhere other than in their own offices. Tell employees not to check work email on their smartphones, either.