How to Avoid the Minefield. As youve seen, it can be difficult to comply with the law, but there are some things an employer can do to reduce their exposure to potential litigation with regards to this issue. Federal law provides that employers that do offer non-exempt employees (those entitled to overtime) what are termed as short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes must compensate those employees for their time because this is considered to be work time. Augustus v. American Commercial Security Services, has the tendency to make people perk up and evaluate their policies. Despite the recent uptick in nationally publicized litigation in this area, there seems to be some confusion amongst both employers and employees over what their respective rights are.
In Texas, a registered nurse initiated an action against the hospital that formerly employed her over similar automatic deductions for lunch breaks which she alleged were often interrupted by uncompensated work or not taken at all due to work. This is because the break must not only fall within the time requirement stated above, but also allow the employee to be completely relieved from the duties of their employment for the entire break period. If you have a system that automatically deducts a set amount of time from employee time cards for breaks, evaluate that system to make sure that it accurately reflects workplace behavior and allows your company to remain compliant with the law.
In Washington for example, hotel workers filed suit against their former employer because the hotel had an alleged practice of deducting 30 minutes from their time cards each day for lunch breaks, regardless of whether they actually took those breaks or not.