Did you know that taking regular short breaks from work gives your employees 60% better odds of feeling energized and, thus, more productive?
Working through the work shift without rest is a recipe for disaster. Employees’ productivity, health, and performance suffer without occasional breaks from work.
But, breaks are not only beneficial for employees’ health and well-being.
In certain states, they are crucial steps towards achieving compliance with strict state break requirements, protecting employers from additional costs, hefty fines, and potential lawsuits.
The Employee Breaks Policy is essential for employers’ profitability, and it will also allow you to keep the employee break periods transparent and under control, paying only for the ones you’ve authorized.
In this article, we will explain why having an Employee Break Policy is essential for any business. We will also provide a free Employee Break Policy template you can customize and implement in your company.
Establishing an Employee Breaks Policy is a pivotal strategy for your business to ensure compliance with relevant laws, foster accountability in the workplace, and safeguard the health and well-being of employees.
We will discuss each of the reasons in more detail below.
Some states have stringent requirements regarding breaks, and not all your employees will always be familiar with them.
However, not following the state’s requirements can be costly for employers who can not prove they’ve done all they can to grant their employees mandated breaks, relieving them from work duties. Additional payments, penalties, and fines are just some of the negative consequences they can face, not to mention the potential lawsuits.
So, in states with strict legislation, employers must have their meal and rest break policy in writing and signed by each employee. This way, they will ensure their workers understand what they are entitled to and the company policies surrounding breaks.
But, regarding legal matters, having a signed employee break policy is essential but insufficient. The safest method to prove your company’s compliance with break laws is using some meal and rest break attestation method for your employees.
That’s where a time and breaks tracking tool, such as Timeero, offers an easy but effective solution. You can customize and enforce your Employee Breaks Policy, remind employees to use their breaks, and keep accurate records.
For California employers, Timeero also offers the dedicated California Breaks Tracker feature. You can set up the policy, assign it to the employees, and have the app remind them to use their breaks at predefined times.
When assigned to the California Breaks Policy, your employees must also attest to using their breaks according to the law by completing a Daily Sign-off Form.
Establishing and enforcing the Employee Breaks Policy in your business will safeguard your business and ensure compliance. Our lunch break policy template is a first step towards it.
Furthermore, the Employee Breaks Policy can support establishing a workplace accountability culture.While some of your employees might forget to take a rest period or even skip it intentionally to finish their tasks, others might try to abuse it.
Employee time theft can come in many ways and, if not addressed, can cost a lot in the long run. With a length of breaks transparently defined, you won’t need to pay for longer breaks you haven’t authorized. You can also set discipline measures for employees abusing the break policy by taking longer or too many breaks during working hours.
Let’s take smoking breaks as an example. A study shows that just eight minutes a day lost to smoking would cost employers approximately $1,641.14 a year per smoker. But the real cost is supposedly higher than that.
With a clear and transparent lunch break policy, your employees will understand their responsibilities regarding breaks and how their break-related behavior may contribute to achieving company-set goals.
Check out our article on how to start holding employees accountable to learn more about promoting workplace accountability.
Besides the Employee Breaks Policy, modern time-tracking technology can help you promote a positive approach to breaks in your company.
When tracking employees’ hours during their shifts, using Timeero, you can set up a break reminder and support your employees in looking after their needs during their shifts.
At the same time, you will be sure the length and the frequency of the breaks will improve your company’s efficiency and not harm it.
If you don’t want overworked employees running your business, encouraging them to take regular work breaks is an easy way to improve their well-being and work performance.
Creating an employee breaks policy can help your business overcome the “breaks are for slackers” workplace mentality.
Here are just a few of the benefits of regular workplace breaks:
There are a few steps you need to take when establishing your employee lunch break policy:
We will guide you through these steps, ensuring you have all the necessary information to tailor your employee breaks policy.
Alternatively, you can download our free Employee Breaks Policy template and customize it to fit your company’s and employees’ needs.
Lunch or coffee breaks are not required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Still, if a company offers short breaks to its staff, federal law regards them as compensable work hours.
Under federal law, the employer should count these breaks in the total working hours during the week and when determining overtime hours.
To prevent paying for the unauthorized longer breaks, the employer should precisely set the length of breaks and inform employees that any unauthorized extension will be considered against company rules and disciplined.
Furthermore, the federal wage and hour law treats meal breaks differently from coffee or snack breaks. As they serve a different purpose, lunch breaks are not considered working time and are thus unpaid.
However, state laws are a different story and complicate employers’ matters.
Let’s take California Break Laws as an example. During a typical 8-hour shift, under California law, non-exempt employees are granted two paid 10-minute rest breaks.
In addition, they are entitled to one unpaid 30-minute meal break. Employees should finish their off-duty meal period before the beginning of their sixth working hour.
Staff whose workday is longer than 10 consecutive hours of work are entitled to a second meal break, not shorter than 30 minutes.
Under certain circumstances, meal waivers are possible, but they have to be voluntary and put in writing.
Breaks must be uninterrupted, and while on breaks, employees must be relieved of all their work duties.
If you’re running a business in California, we recommend reading our article on establishing a California Meal and Rest Break Policy and downloading a free Employee Breaks Policy template that you can customize to your needs.
In addition, in California, if an employer fails to provide an employee with a compliant meal period or rest break, they are entitled to a meal premium pay: one extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a meal break violation occurred and another extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a rest break violation occurred.
In Illinois, a meal break is granted by state labor law to employees who continuously work at least seven and a half hours. The break should be at least 20 minutes and start no later than five hours after the shift begins. A meal break is unpaid unless an employee has to work through it.
Hotel room attendants are an exception in Illinois. In addition to a more extended meal break of 30 minutes, they are the only employees granted rest breaks. Room attendants must be provided two paid rest breaks, 15 minutes each if they work at least seven hours.
Many other states, such as Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont, have specific break regulations.
For instance, although there are no general state laws regarding employee breaks in Maryland, there is an exception regarding minors who are granted 30-minute breaks for every five consecutive hours worked.
PRO TIP: When creating your employee breaks policy, you should check all the relevant federal and state legislation with the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as any potential collective agreements, to ensure the policy is not in breach.
After reviewing all the relevant legislation, the next step is to consider your employees’ needs that you might want to include in your Employee Breaks Policy.
Your employees have diverse needs and may need all sorts of breaks during working hours. Here are some of the most common examples of breaks at work that you can consider including in your employee lunch break policy:
When offered by an employer, the meal break typically lasts 30 minutes or longer. During this time, an employee is considered off-duty, and the employer doesn’t have to count the break in total work time or pay for it.
However, suppose an employee engages in any little work-related task during a meal break - answering a phone or an email. In that case, the employer must count this time toward their work hours and compensate for it.
As we’ve mentioned above, in some states, such as California and Illinois, meal breaks are granted by state law. In these states, on-duty meals are also heavily regulated and demand mutual written agreement between the employer and employee.
Rest breaks are usually shorter than meal breaks, giving employees about 5 to 20 minutes before they return to their work tasks. If you offer rest breaks to your employees, you must include them in their total working hours and pay for them.
Remember that in some states, rest breaks are granted by state laws.
Following the FLSA, nursing mothers must be provided reasonable break time for one full year after the child’s birth.
For this purpose, an employer must offer a private place that is not a bathroom. If a mother takes a break for this purpose, besides the regularly paid rest breaks, an employer doesn’t have to compensate.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an employer must provide employees with bathroom breaks. All employees must have access to toilet facilities when they need to.
Furthermore, employers can’t force them to have a specific schedule for these breaks.
If an employee has a health issue regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer must provide “reasonable accommodation” - an adjustment to fit the employee’s needs.
An employer should permit extra breaks for such an employee to tend to their health needs unless these accommodations would cause the company “undue hardship.”
Employees might need extra breaks to practice their religion - for religious readings and prayers. An employer can provide such accommodation if it doesn’t cause undue hardship for the company.
Employees who smoke may need more frequent breaks. Following the FLSA, an employer is not required to authorize such breaks.
However, if breaks from five to 20 minutes are permitted, an employer must count them as hours worked. An employer doesn’t need to pay or calculate the breaks in the total time worked if the breaks are unauthorized.
Some unforeseen events may leave an employee feeling indisposed, and they might need a break to manage the situation. An employer may provide accommodations for such breaks upon consultations with a supervisor.
Consider your employees’ needs and decide which type of breaks you would include in your Employee Breaks Policy. It can be helpful to plan and anticipate possible needs - just because you still haven’t had to accommodate the needs of the breastfeeding employee or an employee with health issues doesn’t mean you won’t be facing such situations soon.
Also, try to be realistic and consider how much time your employees need to fulfill their needs. If you don’t have a kitchenette at the workplace and your employees need to go to a restaurant nearby for lunch, ensure you give them enough time.
After you’ve checked all the legislation - federal, state, and local laws and potential collective agreements, and determined the needs of your employees regarding breaks, you are ready to formulate your employee lunch break policy.
The policy is intended for your employees to understand what kind of breaks you will offer, when, and under which conditions. It must be transparent and fair, written in a language that is easy to understand. This way, you will avoid confusion and get your employees on the same page.
Your policy should include the answers to all the questions your employees might have regarding breaks, following the relevant legislation and your company’s standards, such as:
After creating your Employee Breaks Policy, remember to add it to your Employee Handbook and communicate and explain the rules to employees.
To ensure the policy is followed and your business complies with relevant laws, you must train your mid-level managers to handle everyday situations.
To better understand the importance of educating your staff and management, let us again take California as an example.
Suppose Sam has a meal break waiver with their employer in writing. But, if Sam tells their manager they would like to use their meal break, the manager must know they have no other option but to agree. Employees’ verbal demand is enough, and they don’t need to fulfill any other requirements except those required by the law.
This is just one example of possible non-compliance. Still, many others may occur in your practice, resulting in potentially harmful consequences.
By training and educating your staff, you will minimize the odds of legal repercussions and maximize operational efficiency. Thorough training will equip your managers with the knowledge to make informed decisions in real time, ensuring a smooth workflow while staying compliant with labor laws.
If you struggle to keep track of your employees’ breaks or to motivate them to take their time for lunch, Timeero can support you in enforcing your Employee Breaks Policy.
Timeero does more than track working hours; it also tracks employees’ breaks. Besides preventing employee time theft and ensuring compliance, it also provides your employees are well-rested and energized and thus more productive.
Here is a quick summary of what Timeero can do for your business:
✅ Enforce your Employee Breaks Policy. Set customized breaks for your company by relevant regulations and your company and employees’ needs.
✅ Simplify the tracking process. Have your employees clock in and out of their breaks with a click on their mobile devices.
✅ Ensure employees use their breaks. Set a break reminder to ensure your employees use their mandatory breaks.
✅ Easily review break practices in your company. Easily see which one of your employees used their breaks and for how long from the admin board, marked with the coffee icon next to an employee timesheet. If you hover over the icon, it will also show time spent on breaks.
✅ Achieve California Break Law compliance. Use California Break Tracker and have your employees attest to their breaks using a Daily Sign-off form, and view Daily Sign-off reports. If an employee is non-compliant, you will receive the alert right away so that you can act accordingly.
✅ Guarantee your employees’ privacy. Even though Timeero has GPS location and mileage tracking features, it won’t track your employees’ locations during their breaks.
Take a break and let Timeero do the work for you. Start your trial today and watch your team perform better.