We all know that taking a break is a good idea. Even employers should know this. Breaks are good for your health, for sure. Breaks also enhance your productivity on the job as well!

Somehow, though, this common sense can be lost in the workplace. The good news is that the law also recognizes that it’s important for everybody to take breaks. So, when employers don’t abide by the rules, there are consequences.

Federal Law:  Employees have rights under federal law that protect their wages when an employer allows breaks. Federal law does not dictate that employers provide those breaks in the first place, but you are always entitled to be paid for the time you work. So, when you work through a meal break, you must be paid for it. Also, short rest breaks (less than 20 minutes) should not be deducted at all.

New York Law: In New York, employers are required to provide meal breaks. That being said, if an employer does not provide its workers with breaks like they are supposed to, the law does not allow you to sue them just for that failure alone. Usually, however, break rights are commonly violated by employers in other ways that can be (and frequently are) the subject of employee’s claims.  

The most important thing you can do to preserve your rights, is to know what they are. Knowledge is power! Knowing what to look for, and what to do about it will help keep your employer honest, and if need be, to hold them accountable.

In this blog, we will detail some common violations of lunch and rest break rights that are practiced by many employers. As always, if you have questions about your rights or believe you have been the victim of illegal wage practices, please contact us at AndersonDodson, P.C.and let us fight to ensure you are always paid what you deserve.  

Violation #1 – Employers often deduct time for a lunch break that you never took. For example, maybe the employer allows a 30–minute lunch, but you didn’t clock out for it because you were still working. If your manager goes in and manually takes out the half hour you were supposed to (but didn’t) take, that is a violation of your rights. Employees are always entitled to be paid for ALL the hours they work, so if you skip a lunch break to work, employers are supposed to pay you for that time. If you worked it, you should be paid for it.(Even if you did clock out … though that could make it harder to prove.)

Violation # 2 – Some employers will give you a lunch break, but require that you stay at your desk, answer phones, meet with clients, or otherwise do work while you do so. Technically, this means you are working through your lunch break, and as we mentioned before, you are always entitled to be paid for the time you work. If your employer lets you take unpaid lunch breaks, but forces you to do work during that time, they are violating your rights.

Violation #3 – Some companies have an automatic time deduction built-in to your hours for a 30 or 60–minute lunch, when the employer in fact knows that there is no way you will be able to take that break due to your job’s requirements. There is nothing inherently wrong with a company having automatic time deductions if you are actually getting to take the break all or most of the time. It is when the company knows, or should know, that you will be unable to take that time each day that the employer can get in trouble. You should keep track of when you were unable to take your breaks. You can ask to be paid for that time, even if it was a long time ago. If you’re not paid, we can help you recover those wages.

Violation #4 – Short breaks, known as rest breaks, coffee breaks, or (back in the olden days) smoke breaks, are considered compensable time under federal and New York law. If your company allows you to take these short breaks of 20 minutes or less throughout the day, but your employer also attempts to deduct those breaks from your paycheck, they are actively violating your rights. Sometimes companies will even make you clock out for a 5 minuterestroom break!  Not only is that illegal, it’s just plain wrong.

This is just a brief overview of some common break rights violations practiced by employers, and there are many other ways companies may seek to save some money by violating your wage and break rights. If you believe your employer is violating your wage or break rights in any way, contact the law firm of AndersonDodson and let us analyze your case. If we find a violation, we will fight to get you the compensation you are entitled to.