Employers should keep in mind that if they do not pay hourly (non-exempt) employees for a meal period, the employee must be completely relieved of duties during the non-compensated time. Additionally, the meal period must be at least 30 minutes.
While this appears to be a reasonable rule, uncompensated meal periods and time worked before and after the scheduled work day are one of the primary areas of wage and hour litigation. Accordingly, employers should have policies and practices in place to ensure that employees do not perform any duties during an uncompensated meal period, and a system to make sure that they are paid if they do perform any duties.
For example, office employees should be encouraged to take lunch in a breakroom, rather than at their desks, as it would be very easy for them to claim that they always have to answer the phone, or work on the computer, while they eat lunch, which would make the time compensable hours worked. Again, if an employee does on occasion have to work during the meal period, she should be paid for the time.
Wage and hour laws apply to all employers, and there are many potential pitfalls. Our experts can assist to make sure that your company is in compliance.