Do I have to pay an hourly, non-exempt employee for meal breaks under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
As a general matter, the FLSA does not require employers to provide meal periods or other breaks to their employees. The FLSA does provide, however, that if an employer does offer a meal break, any meal break of thirty (30) minutes or more is generally not considered "hours worked" for which compensation is required. This assumes, however, that the employee is completely relieved from duties during that meal break. Meal breaks or other breaks of less than thirty (30) minutes are considered compensable "hours worked."
To determine whether a meal period must be treated as "hours worked," one must examine whether the time is spent predominantly for the employer's benefit. If it is, it is considered compensable "hours worked." Thus, if the employer requires the employee to do work during his or her lunch period, the time is counted as compensable "hours worked." Such time also counts as compensable "hours worked" if the employee chooses to work during his or her meal period, even if the employer does not require that the employee do so.
Note that many states have specific laws mandating breaks and/or payments for breaks. Therefore, it is advisable to check on your local state's requirements.
For more information, please contact Mitchell W. Quick, a partner in Michael Best's Labor and Employment Relations Practice Group at 414.225.2755, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.