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Are meal and rest periods mandatory?

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Q. We run a manufacturing facility, and our production needs do not always permit our employees to take breaks during the workday. A group of employees have complained that we are required by law to provide rest breaks and a lunch break during their shifts. Are they right?

No. In Ohio, employers are not required to provide meal or rest periods. Neither federal law nor Ohio law requires employers to provide employees with any breaks during the workday.

However, if meal and rest breaks are provided, federal law does address whether they are counted as “hours worked.”

This distinction is important. If time is counted as “hours worked,” it counts toward the time worked during the workweek when calculating whether the employee has crossed the 40-hour threshold for overtime pay.

Rest periods, which are considered breaks of 20 minutes or less, are counted as hours worked whether or not the break is paid. Rest breaks are customarily paid.

A bona fide meal period, however, is not considered hours worked. To be a bona fide meal period, the employee must be totally relieved of his or her work duties. According to the U.S. Department of Labor: “The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating.”

As with most employment issues, it is best to establish employee expectations about meal and rest breaks in a written policy. 

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