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give me a break break time - man and woman sitting in a break room

Give Me A Break – Break Time Guidelines For the Everyday Employer

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There are many questions that arise when developing employee break and meal policies.

Questions like:

  • How much time should I give my employees for breaks?
  • Is there a specific length of time I'm required to give an employee for a meal period?
  • And... As an employer, am I required to pay them for it?

Break and Meal Times

Regardless of the type of work you perform, we all need a 10-15 minute break in order to gather our thoughts.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal law indicates that employers are not required to provide break times for their employees. However, if the employer does want to provide breaks, the break times are considered compensable to the employee. Meaning, whatever time you allocate to your employees for a break period, as an employer you still have to pay your employee for that time.

An employee can take up to 20 minutes of time for a break and still fall into the "paid" work hour's category.  Anything over that, the employer is not required to pay the employee for that time.

Though not enforced federally, most states impose mandatory breaks for employees.  In these particular cases, the state laws stipulate a 30-minute paid meal break. For laws in your state, check the U.S. Department of Labor state meal break requirements and rest break laws.

Legal Considerations

It's important to clearly communicate your break policy guidelines.

Scenarios you may need to define specifically relate to employees who to take frequent (paid) cigarette breaks, while your non-smoking employees do not. Another example is when employees take unauthorized breaks, or unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks.

In these cases, as an employer you are not required to count the unauthorized time as hours worked.  To avoid misunderstandings with your employees, define what your break and meal times are so you can accurately record them.

Given these federal and state mandates, accurate time and attendance recordkeeping is a must. With an advanced system, your company can collect time and attendance in real time. Right down to the second, you will know:

  • Time and day of week when an employee's workweek begins
  • Hours worked each day
  • Total hours worked each workweek

In addition, a sophisticated time and attendance system can be pre-programmed with timing schedules for meals and breaks.


This post was provided by Nettime Solutions, a Cloud-based workplace management solution. To learn more about best practices for time and attendance software, take a look at the custom features stratustime offers.