Published Date: 02/03/2014
By John Gupton
Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting 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.
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 (if it is company policy to make them non-compensable for hourly non-exempt employees). Also, an employer does not have to let its employees leave the employer’s premises, but the employee must be completely relieved of duty during the 30-minute break for it to not be compensable.
In addition, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (NCWHA) does not require mandatory rest breaks or meal breaks for employees 16 years of age or older. Obviously, even though not required by federal or North Carolina law, from an employee relations perspective, an employer would want to provide its employees with adequate breaks and meal periods during their scheduled work time.
Lastly, there is no North Carolina law requiring an employer to give its employees a smoke-break or to provide a place for its employees to smoke. However, there is a North Carolina law (N.C.G.S. §95-28.2 http://j.mp/LL-22) making it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee for the employee’s lawful use of lawful products, such as tobacco, during non-working hours. It is entirely up to an employer to set its own rules for its employees during working hours concerning breaks and if its employees are allowed to smoke in or on its premises or not during the workday.
If you operate in states other than North Carolina, you will need to check that state’s law on breaks and meal periods.
Please contact a member of CAI'sAdvice & Resolution Team with additional questions at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.