The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require that employees, other than minors, receive breaks, whether paid or unpaid. If the employer does sanction a break, then FLSA regulations set forth when breaks must be paid.

The Maryland Department of Labor states that unless the worker is under 18 years old or is an employee who works in certain retail establishments, there is no law requiring an employer to provide breaks, including lunch breaks. 

Federal law states that a break lasting less than 20 minutes is compensable and included as part of hours in a workday. A meal break that is 30 minutes or longer, may be unpaid as long as employees are not performing work. An unpaid 20-minute meal break is required for employees that work 7.5+ uninterrupted hours. Employers are culpable in making sure that hourly, non-exempt employees know that they cannot perform work during their meal break. 

1. Interrupted Break

Generally speaking, a 30-minute break, with meal or not, must be uninterrupted time. If an hourly employee works during the meal break, the worker generally must be paid. Managers must know that if they ask an employee to do any work during their break, they must follow a process to ensure the employee is properly paid.

2. Shortened Break

When employees are given a 30-minute meal break, if they start working after only 20 minutes because they are anxious to get their jobs done, they should be told they cannot start work until they have taken a full 30-minute break. They should be restricted from logging back in from a break until 30 minutes have passed.

3. Pay Reduction

Maryland law states that if employees are told their pay will be reduced each day by one-half hour for lunch, and they are not free to take this lunch period without an expectation or reasonable understanding that they must work or be on hand to work, they must be paid for the time.

4. Reasonable Understanding

A “reasonable understanding” that an employee must work, or be on hand to work, is a condition in which it is generally known, or the employee reasonably believes, that failure to perform work (or be available “on hand” to perform work) during their break, will result in some negative effect on employment.

As regulations and practices vary by state, and employee status, it is best to consult your HR professional to review compliant practices to have in place.  It is important to have policies documented properly in your handbook, educated managers who have the proper training and understanding about breaks to ensure the company is in compliance, working in the best interest of their employee, and the company.

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