Can we require employees to take lunch breaks?

Have you ever had an employee ask you if he or she could work through lunch and leave early? It’s not an unusual request from employees who are trying to establish their own flexible hours.

However, it’s up to the company to manage employee’s schedules, which may result in a policy requiring employees to take their lunch breaks and to work the established schedule.

Although federal law does not require companies to provide lunch breaks, the Fair Labor Standards Act does weigh in on the topic of rest and meal breaks.  Under the FLSA, if the company chooses to provide a rest period and it is 20 minutes or less, the rest period must be counted as hours worked and paid. If a meal break of 30 minutes or more is provided and the employee is completely relieved of duties (performs no work), then that meal break does not have to count as hours worked or be paid.

Florida follows federal law with respect to break and meal periods.  However, if you have operations in other states, it is recommended that you check those state laws to see if you have additional requirements.

To properly track a non-exempt employee’s time, they must clock in and out at the beginning and end of their work day as well as when they go to lunch.  If the employee works through lunch, the company has an obligation to pay them for that lunch period.

The company is permitted to discipline employees who do not take the required lunch break and who may end up working unauthorized overtime as a result.  Although the company is obligated to pay the unauthorized overtime, the employee may still be reprimanded.

Safety is another reason that companies should require employees to take lunch breaks.  This is particularly true of jobs that require physical labor.  A lunch period allows the individual to rest and eat food that will replenish his or her energy.  Regular lunch breaks result in fewer accidents and can help improve productivity and ensure better quality of work.

Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here to learn more about EAF membership benefits