labor laws for breaks

Labor Laws for Breaks: What Employers Need to Know

Labor laws for breaks can be confusing. If you’re an employer, you have to abide by and enforce the regulations that apply to your business.

If the breaks are shorter than the allotted amount of time, you have to pay the employees for that time (which could affect overtime). If the breaks are over a certain amount of time, you don’t have to pay the employees but they can’t do any work.

And that’s just one aspect of the federal labor laws for breaks. We haven’t even mentioned the state laws that sometimes override the federal laws. You can see how it can get very confusing very quickly.

Let’s clear things up, shall we?

In this article, we discuss labor laws for breaks in detail and the tools that can help you make the process as simple as possible.

Topics we’ll cover:

What are labor laws?

Coffee break in an office

In the early part of the 20th century, businesses had complete control over their employees’ schedules, wages, and a whole host of other variables. To some, it was the best of times — to others, not so much.

Then, in 1940, the federal government enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to set limits and standards on the way businesses managed their employees.

The biggest change to come with the FLSA was how many hours employees could work each week before a business had to pay overtime: 40.

But, the act also established — and continues to expand on — regulations for other issues relating to the employer/employee relationship, including:

  • Labor laws for breaks
  • Minimum wages
  • Recordkeeping
  • Youth employment standards
  • Break time for nursing mothers
  • Holiday and seasonal employment
  • And much more

The FLSA also gave states the right to establish their own labor laws as long as they met the federal minimum standards. We’ll delve a bit deeper into the topic of state regulations later on in this article.

Federal labor laws for breaks

 labor laws for breaks being followed

Currently, there are no federal labor laws for breaks mandating that an employer has to provide meal or rest breaks for its employees.

The one exception is for nursing mothers — employers must allow mothers to take breaks to express breast milk whether they are exempt or non-exempt employees.

Most employers, however, do choose to allow their employees to take meal and rest breaks throughout the day.

If a business does decide to provide break time, federal law stipulates that it must abide by two conditions:

  • Employers that allow non-meal rest periods of anywhere from five minutes to 20 minutes must pay employees for that time.
  • Employers that allow meal breaks of 30 minutes or more do not have to pay employees for that time as long as the employee does not have to execute work responsibilities while they eat.

In addition, the FLSA dictates that employers must pay employees for permitted restroom breaks even if the business’s work policy doesn’t explicitly address the subject.

State labor laws for breaks

Employees following labor laws for breaks

As we mentioned earlier in the article, the FLSA gives states the right to establish their own labor laws for breaks as long as those laws meet the federal minimums.

As a result, states can build on the FLSA — adding more or stricter regulations for employers — but they can’t subtract from what the federal government has already established.

For example, in Arizona, there are no relevant state labor laws for breaks so the federal law applies. In California, however, the Department of Industrial Relations established the following regulations:

Employers must allow employees who work for more than five (5) consecutive hours to take a meal break for at least 30 minutes.

California meal laws require that employers provide employees with a meal period of no less than a 30-minute when they work more than five (5) consecutive hours; or for employees in the film industry who work more than six (6) hours in certain circumstances.

The employer and employee may mutually consent or waive the meal break. Also, employers must provide employees a second meal break of not less than 30 minutes if the employee works more than ten (10) hours in a day.

If the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the employer and the employee may agree to waive the second meal break if the first meal break was not waived.

Any such meal break is classified as “hours worked” and the employee must be paid accordingly unless he or she is relieved of all work-related duties and can leave the employer’s premises.

California law only permits employers to provide an “on duty” meal period in certain circumstances. Employers must also let some non-exempt employees take a net 10-minute paid rest period for every four hours worked or a major fraction thereof.

When possible, the rest period should be in the middle of the work period. This does not apply to employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one half (3 1/2) hours.

The rest period is classified as time worked and therefore, the employer must pay employees accordingly.

While the core of the federal law is there, California legislature added more details to govern how employers treat their employees.

This is just one example of state laws that go above and beyond the federal regulations.

The majority of states have expanded their labor laws for breaks, so be sure to check with an attorney who is familiar with your industry and the area in which it operates.

Tools for staying compliant

 Stay compliant with labor laws for breaks with Sling

1) Scheduling software

Scheduling software is a powerful tool to help you stay compliant with all labor laws for breaks.

With the right app, you can build breaks into your team’s schedule and automatically send out notifications so that everyone knows when it’s time to stop work for a few minutes.

In most cases, you can even mark the break period as paid or unpaid. That way, there’s no confusion about what’s going on.

2) Time tracking software

Time tracking software is another helpful tool for making sure that your business abides by all labor laws for breaks.

All businesses likely have a time tracking system in place to record the start and end of the workday. But, is your system flexible enough to accommodate clocking in and out for breaks without making everything else for you and for your employees more difficult?

3) Task management software

Like scheduling software, a task management app is indispensable for staying in compliance with state and federal labor laws for breaks.

While some apps are just a list of jobs that need to be finished, other apps often include the ability to monitor progress along the way.

The most advanced can even be set up to send alerts and notifications to your employees’ devices when it’s time to start or stop a task. That feature makes organizing and executing breaks much easier.

4) Communication software

Communication software is another essential tool for managing employee breaks. It’s especially useful for remote employees, field service teams, and those who telecommute to work.

By staying in touch with your team — whether they’re working in the office or on the jobsite — you’ll be better able to coordinate all activities, including the breaks they take.

An all-in-one solution

happy employees

The best way to ensure that your business complies with all local, state, and federal labor laws for breaks is to implement workforce management software into your workflow.

Your business will benefit even more if that workforce management software includes the four features mentioned above (i.e., scheduling, time tracking, task management, and communication).

Which software does all that and more? Sling.

The Sling app is an all-in-one solution for everything your business needs to run smoothly and efficiently.

It even includes advanced features, such as:

Try the Sling app for free and discover how it can help you abide by all labor laws for breaks and run your business better than ever before.

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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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