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Automatic pay deduction for lunch: Is it legal?

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in Human Resources,Overtime Labor Laws

For hourly employees, you don’t have to pay them for meal breaks of 30 minutes or more, as long as the employee is completely relieved of his or her duties during the break.

To simplify wage-and-hour calculations, many employers automatically de­­duct the meal period from time worked.

That’s legal. But, as this case shows, you must make sure there’s an easy way for employees who occasionally work through their meal breaks to report the additional paid time. Otherwise, you could be paid back with a class-action lawsuit.

Recent case: Several hourly em­­ployees at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center sued, alleging the hos­­pital automatically deducted 30 minutes for meal breaks, even if em­­ployees worked during the breaks.

The em­­ployees sought to take the case to a class-action status.

The medical center argued that it did nothing wrong because employees who did work through the meal could easily fix their pay. All they needed to do was place a note on their time sheet. Many employees did, and the deductions were reversed quite often without any problems.

The employees’ lawyers argued that this impermissibly placed the record-keeping burden on employees, not employers. The court disagreed. It said that employers that provide a way to reverse the deduction aren’t automatically violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Camesi, et al., v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, et al., No. 09-85, WD PA, 2011)

Bottom line: Automatic deductions are fine as long as you are vigilant about making sure employees either take their breaks or get paid when they don’t.

Another way to legally protect yourself: Require employees to affirmatively state—say, by checking a box on a time sheet—whether meal periods are taken or missed.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Keri S August 1, 2017 at 9:14 am

My employer takes 30 mins out for every shift we work even though there is rarely an opportunity to take a break. The 30 mins comes out whether we take it or not even if we don’t make 8 hours for the shift.


Comfort adjaye June 21, 2017 at 9:45 am

My break hours was taken from my 24 hours overtime and not from regular 80 hours, is it right ?


Nick April 24, 2017 at 3:39 pm

What about salary paid workers? Is it illegal for an employer to deduct for lunch break or no? Because if you work 8 hrs or 5 hrs your days pay remains the same


Alan Smithie April 22, 2017 at 1:29 am

I work 12 and a quarter hour shifts, I get docked 30 minutes for a break I don’t get. And my department is only one that this happens to.


shirley January 16, 2017 at 6:10 am

I work for a company that gives 20 min.paid break but they take meal time money out of my pay how is that legal was it is a paid break


John Doe November 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I get docked for an hour every single day and we don’t get a break at all


Legal August 24, 2016 at 4:28 pm

I dont think its legal.


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