Rest Breaks and On-Call Time

Working Through Breaks

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not required to give employees lunch breaks. However, if the employer gives you a break of 30 minutes or more for example, it should be a 30-minute period of uninterrupted time. If you are still required to be on-call for work during this time and still perform work, this is compensable work time.

For example, if a nurse in a hospital is given a 30-minute break, but is required to be on-call in case of a patient emergency, and not allowed to leave the hospital, this lunch break is compensable work time. If it is a true lunch break, you should be relieved of all duties and not responsible for responding to work needs of the employer. Also, if you are required to at lunch at your desk while you are still working, this is not a true lunch break and you should be paid for this time. Likewise, if you are a factory worker and required to eat lunch by your machine, this is not a true lunch break.

Many employers do not pay wages for lunch breaks despite having employees work through their breaks, which is illegal. If your employer has refused to pay wages in a similar situation, you may be owed substantial overtime damages.

Automatic Deductions for Breaks

Many employers automatically deduct 30 minutes or 1 hour from their employees’ pay for lunch, even when the employees did not take the full lunch break. Employers are only allowed to not pay for lunch/break time if you are truly not working during that time. For example, if you work as a cook at a restaurant and are given a 30-minute break when no customers are around, and then 15 minutes later the restaurant becomes busy and you have to work, this is not a true lunch break.

Also, sometimes workers have lunch automatically deducted from their pay even when they never took a lunch break at all. This happens in many occupations such as nursing where employees must respond to emergencies. The workplace gets so busy that workers do not have an opportunity to rest or take their lunch break, but the employer still automatically deducts the break from their pay. This practice is illegal, and if it is happening to you, your employer owes you wages.

Additionally, sometimes employees have too much work to do, and are forced to eat at their desk while they continue working. This is all compensable worktime under the FLSA since it is not an uninterrupted break, and the employer must pay overtime wages for these breaks.

On-Call Time

Many employers do not properly pay for “on-call time” which is having their workers stay on the work premises during their break for the benefit of the employer. If your employer requires you to stay at work during periods of inactivity, and you are not free to leave the premises and use this time for your own purposes, this is compensable work time. This is called being “engaged to wait”. Employees that are engaged to wait are on-call for the benefit of their employer. The most important distinction between workers engaged to wait and those on true breaks is that workers that are engaged to wait cannot use those breaks for their own time. For example, if on your break your employer does not allow you to make personal phone calls on your cell phone, this is not a true break.

For example, if you work at a car wash and there are no cars to wash so you are idle, but the employer will not let you leave the premises, this is being being engaged to wait and is compensable work time. In this situation, you are standing around for the benefit of the employer, and ready to work just in case more cars come. Similarly, if you work in a factory on an assembly line, and there is no work to be done but you are not allowed to leave the assembly line, this is compensable on-call time that you must be paid for. In this situation, the employer wants you to remain at the assembly line ready for work, so you are on-call for the benefit of the employer and not on a true rest break. Do not let your employer get away with not paying you for breaks that you cannot really use for your own free time.

Contact a wage an hour attorney to discuss your case and get the money you deserve!

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