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Employers May Need to Pay Workers for Short Rest Breaks

When employees are promised breaks as part of their employment, federal law considers those breaks as part of their paid work hours. These hours must be included in the calculation of total hours worked and must be used to calculate overtime.

Federal law doesn’t require rest breaks. They are commonly offered by employers to boost productivity and enhance employee morale. Eight states (California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have laws requiring rests. Typically, employees are offered a 10-minute break for every four hours worked.

A 2017 ruling from the Third Circuit in the case of Secretary United States Department of Labor v American Future Systems held that employees must be compensated for short break periods as hours worked, no matter what they are called.

Bathroom breaks are not considered “rest breaks.” Bathroom breaks are above and beyond an employee’s rest breaks.

It is not uncommon at call centers that employers require the employee to log out of their computer for bathroom breaks, getting a cup of coffee and taking a rest break. This practice does not alter the legal requirement that you must be paid for short rest periods. In fact, cumbersome logging in and logging out procedures have been the source of lawsuits brought by employees.

Health care facility workers face issues with rest breaks too. Workers at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other custodial care facilities must be paid for all hours where they are required to be “on duty.” Completing reports and paperwork after a shift must be counted for payment and to calculate overtime.

Employers cannot offer employees an option to substitute their unpaid 30-minute lunch break with three 10-minute smoke breaks. The smoke breaks are considered “rest breaks” and must be included in their hours worked.

Employees offered at-will rest breaks may be able to pursue a claim to seek compensation for these breaks, in certain circumstances.

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