My Employer Makes Me Work Through Lunch Breaks or Automatically Deducts Lunch Breaks from My Paycheck: Is This Legal? (Unpaid Wages Under Florida Law)
While Florida is not a state that requires an employer to give employees rest or meal breaks, employees can still be wrongfully unpaid for a rest or meal break if they are given one. Commonly in Florida, employees are given lunch “breaks” – only to be told that they need to still answer the phone or greet customers during their breaks – unpaid. Or, another common tactic is that employers automatically deduct the pay for a lunch break from an employees’ pay – regardless if they take the break or not. And finally, a third common theme we see for meal and rest breaks is when employees are given less than twenty minutes for a break, but required to clock out – also illegal under federal law.
While the law in this area is not terribly complicated, it can still trip up an employer–or employee–who does not take the time to understand the rules.
Rest Breaks vs. Meal Periods
The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets the basic rules for when certain employees must be paid. While some states provide for stronger wage and hour protections for employees than federal law, Florida’s state laws mirror the laws under the FLSA. With respect to rest breaks and meal times there are specific Department regulations in place. Here is a brief rundown.
Rest breaks – If the rest period is of “short duration”–i.e., generally between 5 and 20 minutes (less than 20 minutes)–it is considered “hours worked” and must be paid.
Meal periods – A “bona fide” meal period of 30 minutes or more is not considered working time and does not have to be compensated.
Now, there is an important qualifier to the rule governing meal periods. The employee must be “completely relieved from duty” while eating. This means if you are required to work through lunch, you must be paid for that time.
Note that the work itself need not be active or even the employee’s regular tasks. Let’s take a simple example. A supervisor asks an employee to “cover the front desk” during the office’s normal lunch hour. The employee sits at the front desk and eats her lunch. Nothing actually happens–nobody calls or requires assistance–but the employee is not “completely relieved from duty” and therefore must be paid for her time.
Some employers also take “automatic deductions” of meal times from an employee’s hours worked each day. Such policies may be unlawful depending on how they are implemented. If an employee chooses to work through lunch, for example, the employer cannot take an automatic deduction. Similarly, if an employer has a policy of automatically deducting an hour to account for both meal times and rest breaks, that would violate the FLSA because, as described above, rest breaks must be compensated.
Finally, employees should know that an employer need not permit you to leave the premises during a non-compensated meal time. The law only requires you be relieved of any work-related duties. You may still be required to remain on-premises.
If you have any additional questions or concerns about whether your employer is properly compensating you, please contact a qualified Florida wage and hour law attorney right away.