breaks can last anywhere between 30 minutes to one hour, where employees are allowed to take their meals, such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The applicable lunch or meal break laws vary by state, but the Department of Labor does not consider lunch breaks as work time hence, not compensated, except at the employer’s discretion, or when the state law in that state demands so.
Did you know that not all workers get employee lunch breaks? Employees whose nature of work is sensitive, such as customer-facing employees, take breaks at a convenient time. Employers may or may not allow employees to leave the working premises during the meal breaks.
Employees are either exempt or nonexempt in any workplace environment. Exempt employees are the employees whose jobs are not subject to minimum wage and overtime pay rules–they typically work in professional, administrative, executive, or computer-related roles. Their consideration is in the form of a salary and not an hourly wage, but they get annual bonuses.
Exempt employees must adjust their working schedules to create time for lunch breaks, and their employers regulate the length of their breaks. However, employers cannot reduce their pay if they take longer lunch breaks than necessary. According to state law, employers must compensate employees who work during lunch breaks. Some industries are not covered by the provisions of lunch break rules, including
- Defense Forces;
- Employees who have control over their working hours;
- Home-based employees;
- Civil protection services– certain categories;
Skipping Lunch Breaks for Early Exits
What’s the legal position for employees who forgo rest and lunch breaks to leave the working premise early? The legal position can vary by jurisdiction and the business needs. Generally, employees must take a break if it’s a state requirement. If it’s not a requirement, the business needs must be prioritized, and the employer must evaluate the situation and advise an employee who wishes to forgo their breaks to end their day early. It may be necessary for an employee to skip their breaks to leave early for other important issues, such as attending a class, among others. However, the final decision rests on the management.
Special Lunch Break Rules
Some workers have special rights on breaks and rest periods. The Employment Act of 1996 regulates the working hours of minors. The following table summarizes rest breaks for employees under the age of 16. However, the rules are not applicable if you work for a relative.
Rest breaks for 18-year-olds
|A 30-minute rest break||After 4 hours of work|
|Daily rest break||14 consecutive hours off|
|Weekly rest breaks||two days off, to be consecutive if possible|
Employees who have lunch and rest periods should try to resolve with their employer first. If the employer is adamant, they should make a formal complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission. Finally, aggrieved employees can consult an employment lawyer for legal advice if the two solutions are unsuccessful.