Breaks are an important part of the job for your workers. Meal and rest breaks give employees a chance to rest and recharge so they’re productive all day. Research has shown that employees who take a lunch break every day are more engaged, have higher job satisfaction, are more likely to refer jobs to others and have stronger teams. But while meal and rest breaks have major worker benefits, calculating break times correctly can be a headache for payroll due to differing state regulations, unless you have a great time clock app. 

Doesn’t the Federal Government Set Requirements for Employee Meal and Rest Breaks? 

No. Meal and rest breaks aren’t required by the Department of Labor (DOL). But, if your company does offer breaks, you must track them accurately for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) compliance. For example, according to the DOL, if your company decides to offer short rest breaks, the typical 15-minute break, the DOL considers the breaks as compensable work hours under federal law. If a break lasts anywhere from five to 20 minutes, it must be included in the total number of hours worked by the employee during the week and count towards any overtime. That said, if an employee takes longer than his or her authorized break of five to 20 minutes, any extension would be considered unauthorized and those hours don’t have to be counted. It bears noting that rest breaks cannot be offset against other types of downtime, like on-call time or waiting time.  

Because meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes) serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks, they’re not work time and are not compensable, i.e., the employee needs to clock out for meals. Keep in mind, though, that the employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals. That means the employee can’t check work emails while eating, pick up supplies or eat at their machines. For meal breaks, most construction companies have crews clock out for 30 minutes or more to eat, although the Code of Federal Regulations states special conditions may dictate a shorter meal period.   

Employee Rights and Protections

While most states don’t guarantee rest breaks, employees benefit from regular opportunities to eat, hydrate and recharge. Breaks can improve productivity, engagement, mental health, physical health and energy. When employers support employees in meeting basic needs, it relieves frustration and builds trust.

Common Reasons for Interrupted Breaks

Certain situations specific to construction can often interrupt scheduled meal and rest breaks, including:

  • Last-minute changes in plans that require employee attention
  • Materials or equipment arriving mid-break
  • Safety briefings called unexpectedly
  • Job site issues arising suddenly that crews must address

Interruptions like these cut into the time allocated for breaks. Legally, employees should receive the full off-duty break time they are entitled to under state laws. When interruptions consistently impede meal and rest periods, it violates labor regulations.

Compensating Shortened Break Time

The FLSA mandates that employers pay non-exempt crews for all work performed, regardless of duration. For example, if an interruption causes a 30-minute lunch to get cut to 15 minutes, the employer owes 15 minutes of wages.

Skipping mandated breaks or delaying them beyond regulated timeframes leads to payroll errors that accumulate into wage claims and lawsuits over time if left undocumented. Without accountability, substantial owed wages for partial or missed breaks ultimately breeds resentment among crews.

Proactive Planning Mitigates Harm

While the unpredictable nature of construction makes shielding workers from all break disruptions impossible, taking proactive steps to protect rest time demonstrates managerial good faith. Creating policies that encourage prompt reporting of issues impacting break compliance allows for timely compensation adjustments. Outlining overtime exemption procedures for interrupted lunches can also help.

By updating outdated tracking procedures, construction firms reinforce their commitment to caring for worker needs first. Additionally, automated technology ensures proper documentation, visibility and processing for partial or skipped breaks. Capabilities like scheduled notifications and integrated payroll safeguard compliance when unforeseeable circumstances threaten adherence.

State Laws Around Meal and Rest Breaks 

Only a handful of states have meal and break laws, although it is common practice for employers to offer paid and unpaid breaks for their employees in the states that don’t.  

For example, California laws regarding breaks are some of the most extensive in the country. If an employee works more than 5 hours per day (unless the shift is only 6 hours or less) they are required to have a half-hour meal break. This break can be waived if both the employer and employee consent to it. Employers must also count an on-duty meal period as time worked if the nature of the work prevents a clocked-out lunch break. For this to occur, a written agreement between parties must exist. If an employee works more than 10 hours per day (but not more than 12 hours), the employee gets a second 30-minute meal break.  

Other states that have meal and rest break laws on the books include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Check out this ExakTime blog for a complete breakdown of each of these states’ laws.  

Maintaining Compliance, No Matter Your State 

No matter if your state has set statutes for break laws, every employer needs to comply with the FLSA and pay employees for time worked. If you’re tracking your employees’ hours on paper, you’re setting your company up for mistakes and possibly stiff penalties. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers pay non-exempt employees for all hours worked, which may include rest breaks or meal breaks where the employee works, even if extra time results in overtime. This means it is imperative companies implement policies to prevent employees from working during unpaid meal or lunch periods, such as requiring employees to eat lunch away from their workspace, to ensure they will not be held responsible for paying employees during that time. Using a time clock app is another way to ensure employees are paid for time worked. 

ExakTime’s mobile time tracking app makes it easy for your employees to clock in and out for breaks and it allows supervisors to track crew times ensuring required meal breaks are taken at appropriate times and are of appropriate length. When paper time cards are used, hours can get padded but there’s also the chance that employees might forget exactly when they clocked in or out for a break, exposing the employer to potential compliance issues.   

ExakTime’s time tracking solutions helps companies stay compliant with meal break laws by automatically tracking employees’ time in the easy-to-use app.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Are lunch breaks required in the US?

In the United States, lunch breaks are not mandated by federal labor laws. However, many states have their own regulations that require meal breaks for workers. Employers must comply with the state laws where their employees work, which often stipulate that workers be given a minimum meal break after a certain number of hours worked, typically 30 minutes after a 5-hour work period.

How long should a break be for an 8-hour shift?

For an 8-hour work shift, a standard break structure typically includes a 30-minute to 1-hour unpaid lunch break and two 15-minute paid short breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This can vary based on collective bargaining agreements, so it is important to check applicable regulations.

What if an employee refuses to take a break?

If an employee refuses to take a break, it is important for supervisors to remind them of the company’s break policy and the legal requirements regarding breaks, if applicable. Employers should ensure they are providing clear opportunities for rest, while also documenting any refusals to adhere to the policy. Persistent refusal by an employee to take mandated breaks may require further action, including disciplinary measures, to ensure compliance with labor laws and company guidelines designed to prevent fatigue and maintain productivity.  

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