Employers often ask what the rules around breaks and meal periods are for employees. Do I have to offer breaks? How are breaks paid? Is there a difference between a short break and long break? The United States Department of Labor and the Georgia Department of Labor both have some guidance on these topics.
According to both the United States Department of Labor and the Georgia Department of Labor, coffee breaks and meal periods are not required to be offered to workers. That being said, from an employee morale and productivity perspective, breaks are usually considered a essential to employers in keeping employees alert and rested. Furthermore, breaks provide an opportunity for workers to socialize with their co-workers, which builds morale in the company and helps to promote creativity and problem solving.
According to the United States Department of Labor, “when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about five to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and considered in determining if overtime was worked.” However, “Bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes), serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, thus, are not work time and are not compensable.” However, during a bona fide meal period or meal break, the worker must be free to use the time as they wish and not require to perform work during that time. This is often a tough area where employers have trouble.
It is essential employers have clear policies about this and many other workplace issues. If you have any questions about wage and hour or other employee issues, please contact an attorney of your choice.
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Sarah Phaff is an attorney at Gorby Peters & Associates focused on finding practical solutions for her clients.