Working without rest is a recipe for disaster. Without taking occasional breaks from work, employees’ productivity, health, and work performance suffer.
Employee Breaks Policy can encourage different workplace behavior and promote healthier and more beneficial workplace habits.
At the same time, the policy will allow you to keep the employee breaks transparent and under control, paying only for the ones you’ve authorized.
Read on as we cover everything you need to know about the employee breaks policy, from the legislation to implementation. You can also download our Employee Breaks Policy template and customize it to fit your company’s needs.
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:
Besides these benefits, employee breaks policy can support establishing a workplace accountability culture.
While some of your employees might forget to take the break 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 their working hours.
With a clear and transparent lunch break policy, your employees will understand their responsibilities when it comes to breaks and how their break-related behavior may contribute to achieving company set goals.
Check out our article on how to start holding your employees accountable to learn more about promoting workplace accountability.
Besides employee breaks policy, current 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.
There are a few steps you need to take to 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 set the length of breaks precisely and inform employees that any unauthorized extension will be considered against the 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. For example, during a typical 8-hour shift, under California law, non-exempt workers 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 break before the beginning of their sixth working hour.
Staff who work shifts longer than 10 hours are entitled to a second meal break, not shorter than 30 minutes. If both the employer and employee agree, they may waive this break, but only if the shift is not longer than 12 hours.
In Illinois, a meal break is granted by state 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.
When creating your employee breaks policy, you should check all the relevant federal and state legislation, 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 their working hours.
Here are some 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.
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.
As we’ve mentioned above, in some states, rest breaks are granted by the state law under certain conditions or to specific groups of employees.
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 for it.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 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 using 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’ current needs and decide which type of breaks you would include in your employee breaks policy.
It can be helpful to plan ahead and anticipate possible needs - just because you still haven’t had to accommodate the needs of the breastfeeding mother or an employee with health issues doesn’t mean you won’t be facing such situations soon.
Also, try to be realistic and take into account how much time your employees really 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, local, 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 be offering, 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.
Ensure you define the scope of the policy, as well as its intended purpose. Explain in detail what type of breaks your employees can use, when, how long they last, and how often.
Also, make a difference between unpaid and paid breaks and specify the reporting procedures.
Remind your employees that while you encourage them to use their breaks, you will keep track of them to prevent and discipline any abuse.
After creating your Employee Breaks Policy, remember to add it to your employee handbook and communicate the rules to employees.
If you struggle to keep track of your employees breaks or to motivate them to take their time for lunch, Timeero can be the solution you’re looking for. A break reminder is especially important in states or industries where breaks are mandatory.
Timeero does more than track working hours; it also tracks employees’ breaks. Besides preventing employee time theft, it ensures your employees are well-rested and energized and thus more productive.
Take a break and let Timeero do the work for you. Start your trial today and watch your team perform better.