Don’t go off the clock for short lunch breaks

Many workers do not realize that they do not need to go off the clock for short lunch breaks or snacks. If you take yourself off the clock for breaks under 30 minutes, you may not be getting the wages to which you’re entitled.

There are many employment practices not regulated by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). For example, there’s no requirement under the FLSA that you get vacation pay, meal periods, holidays off, premium compensation for working weekends or holidays, pay raises, a reason to be discharged, or pay stubs. There are no collection procedures in place if you are promised wages or due commissions that are greater than what’s required. Moreover, there are no limitations about how many hours in a single day you can be scheduled to work if you are at least 16 years old. Generally, these issues are agreed upon between an employer and an employee.

However, rest periods or short lunch breaks are quite common in all workplaces. There is no requirement that a lunch or coffee break be given under federal law. However, if your employer chooses to offer you a short break, these breaks are considered compensable hours that are included when determining overtime and minimum wage, and they are regulated under the FLSA. Any rest period of short duration (such as one that is 20 minutes or less) is supposed to be paid as working time and included when calculating overtime.

Over time, these short breaks can add up. If you take 20 minutes to eat a salad at your desk every day, five times a week, and in addition to that you work eight hours a day, you are working overtime in the amount of 100 minutes, or one hour and 40 minutes. Under the FLSA, you are supposed to be paid time and a half for those hours. Thus, if you are paid minimum wage in Texas, you are getting shorted $10.875 each week. In a year in which you work every week, you may lose as much as $565.50 in wages, which is a significant loss, particularly to a minimum wage worker.

True lunch breaks, which are periods that are at least 30 minutes in which you are not working, and perhaps you are eating or running an errand, have a different purpose from a snack or coffee break. Usually, these longer lunch breaks don’t need to be compensated as work time. For example, if you and your coworkers go out to lunch for an hour, you should not expect to be compensated. This is because you’re completely relieved from duty. On the other hand, if you are expected to read work materials while you’re taking this break, you are not relieved from duty and should be paid.

Any extension of an authorized work break doesn’t need to be considered as hours worked, however, if the employer has specifically told you that the authorized break can last only for a restricted duration, that taking a longer break goes against the employer’s rules, and that such an extension will be penalized.

If you are entitled to overtime for working off the clock, you should retain an experienced Texas attorney. Contact us at (214) 528-6500 or via our online intake form.

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