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What counts as a true meal break?

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in Human Resources

Q. Sometimes we hold important meetings at lunch and provide food. An employee then takes her lunch hour after. Can we tell her she can’t do that? — Anonymous

A. The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t mandate meal or other employee breaks. State law governs that issue, so you need to consult the law in your state (see www.dol.gov/esa/whd/state/state.htm).

In many states, employers are required to provide meal periods for employees whose shifts are a certain number of minimum hours. However, there typically is no requirement that the employee be relieved of all duties during the meal break. Thus, in these states, it would be permissible for you to consider the employee has already had her meal period when you have provided food at a business luncheon.

Of course, because the employee is not relieved of all work duties during these lunches, you should be compensating her for time spent attending these meetings.

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