Workers are often forced to perform a substantial amount of work during unpaid "lunch" breaks. For example, health care workers are often told that they have to stay on site during the meal break that they can respond to any patient emergencies, often because the facility does not have to schedule and pay additional workers. Other workers are required to exchange and service equipment during unpaid breaks. Those workers might be entitled to additional pay for the extra work they are forced to perform.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, most breaks must be counted as work time because such breaks promote efficiency, safety, and boost productivity. Few workers could spend eight or more hours without at least going to the bathroom. If the break is 5 to 20 minutes long, that break time must be counted as work time.
Employers, however, are not required to pay for bona fide meal periods. To be "bona fide," the meal period must be long enough for employees to use the time effectively for their own purposes. Usually, the break must be at least 30 minutes long, and the employee must be freed from active duties. Moreover, if the employee is required to stay on call during the meal period or is frequently required to perform additional work, the employee may be entitled to be paid for the break.
Does your employer take you off the clock for short breaks or make you work during meal periods? If so, call us at (855) 825-5916 to learn about your legal rights.