Meal breaks and rest breaks continue to be some of the biggest grey areas in employment. Whether its understanding how much time needs to be provided, what limitations an employer can place on the employee during that time, or timekeeping issues, break time can be a very confusing topic. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with employee breaks. The basics Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) should pay employees for all breaks and meal periods under 30 minutes or for any meals when the employee is not completely relieved of his duties. While this seems very straightforward there are often situations in which employee breaks are interrupted and thus should be paid. Example: An employee is given an hour meal period and is permitted to leave the premises, but the employee regularly is required to answer his cell phone to field work-related questions during lunch. The time spent answering/talking on the cell phone is work time. Further, if the phone calls are frequent enough to not give the employee an uninterrupted break, the employer will have to compensate the employee for the entire meal period. Scheduling the break Another issue with break times is knowing at what point they are required. About half of the states have laws requiring breaks at certain hour thresholds, for example after five consecutive hours of work. Check your state’s requirement here. Where the break is taken One misconception is that if the employee is not allowed to leave the premises the break must be paid. For safety reasons, some employers prohibit staff from coming and going from the office during shifts. As long as the employee is fully relieved of their duties, these breaks do not be to be paid. Day-long breaks from work Some states also have laws requiring rest days after employees have worked a certain number of days. Check with your state’s department of labor for more information. Meal and break time policies As with all employment law topics, the best way to stay out of trouble is to have a clear policy in place and to enforce it evenly. Below is an example of an hours of work policy you can customize to fit your needs. Hours of Work policy Workweek The workweek is Monday through Sunday. Day (first) shift is from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Evening (second) shift is from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Night (third) shift is from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Wash-up Periods A non-exempt employee will receive a paid wash-up period of five minutes immediately before his or her lunch and a paid washup period of five minutes immediately before the end of his or her shift. Break Periods A non-exempt employee will receive a paid break period of 10 minutes in the first four hours of a shift lasting at least four hours and a paid break period of 10 minutes in the second four hours of a shift lasting at least eight hours. The Company will continue its practice of offering an unpaid supper period when extended overtime is worked into late evening hours. Meal Periods A non-exempt employee will receive an unpaid meal period of 30 minutes during a shift lasting more than four hours. The timing of the meal period for each employee shall be solely at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor. No work may be performed during the meal period. If you do perform work during a meal period, you must inform your supervisor immediately, and your timecard must reflect that you worked during the meal period. For more information on breaks, meal times, and wage and hour issues, click here to subscribe to Wages and Hours – An Employer's Guide for $49.