Two 15 minute breaks plus a half-hour for lunch seems to be the norm for companies providing meal or rest periods for employees.  However, most employers are unaware that, with limited exceptions, there is no requirement to provide meal or rest periods to employees under Florida or federal law.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the regulations state that if you provide a rest period that is 20 minutes or less, it must be counted as hours worked and the company must pay for it.  The regulations go further to state that if you provide a meal period that is 30 minutes or more and the employee is completely relieved of duty, then that time does not have to count as hours worked and may be unpaid.  Nowhere in these regulations does the law require you to provide a meal or rest period to employees.  To learn more, click to http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/workhours/breaks.htm.

An exception to this rule regarding breaks was made when the Affordable Care Act was passed.  Included in those regulations was a requirement that employers provide breaks to nursing mothers in order for them to express their milk for up to one year after the child’s birth.  This rule requires employers to give their non-exempt employees reasonable breaks to express milk.  The fact sheet regarding this rule encourages the employer and employee to discuss what the frequency and duration of those breaks would be.  Additionally, the employer must provide a private area, other than a bathroom for the employee to express her milk.  Although the rule applies to all size organizations, employers with fewer than 50 employees may not be required to comply with this requirement if it presents an undue hardship.  For more information about breaks for nursing mothers, visit the Department of Labor website at http://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/.

The other circumstance in which an employer is obligated to provide a meal or rest period is under Florida’s child labor law.  In that circumstance, employees under age 18 must be provided with an uninterrupted meal period of at least 30 minutes after 4 hours of work.  Even when other hours of work limitations don’t apply (such as when a 17-year-old is working full-time during the summer when school is out), the employer must still provide a 30-minute break every 4 hours. More information about Florida’s child labor laws can be found at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/reg/childlabor/ChildLaborHours.html.

Regardless of whether an employer is obligated to provide breaks to employees or not, most employers recognize the value of providing their workers with breaks and/or meal periods.  This gives the individual an opportunity to step away from whatever they’re working on so that they can refresh themselves and refocus their attention on the task at hand.

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 for currently scheduled programs: http://www.eafinc.org/online_store/training/HCCMO/training_programs.pdf.

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