- Precision of New Hampton, Inc. has agreed to pay $279,505 in back wages to settle U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) claims that it violated federal law by improperly deducting short breaks from workers' pay.
- DOL’s Wage and Hour Division determined after an investigation that the New Hampton, Iowa-based manufacturer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by deducting breaks shorter than 30 minutes from employees’ pay as unpaid lunch breaks.
- The settlement will be divided among 150 workers.
"Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks," DOL has said. But when employers offer short breaks of about five to 20 minutes, the FLSA requires that employers pay for the breaks as work time because such limited breaks "promote the efficiency of the employee," according to DOL. Early this summer, several Army contractors agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle claims they violated the FLSA by failing to pay workers for 15-minute rest breaks.
On the other hand, meal periods, which are typically 30 minutes or longer, may be unpaid as long as workers are completely relieved of job duties during that time. "Employers must provide a minimum of 30 minutes for a bona fide meal break if they intend to deduct the time from an employee’s time records. They must also ensure that employees do not perform work during that time," Wage and Hour District Director Marcy Boldman said in a statement announcing the New Hampton settlement.
Employers may need to note that many states have their own rules breaks, too. California, for example, has specific meal and rest break requirements. Non-exempt employees in the state must be given rest breaks and meal periods after working a certain number of hours. Employers in the state must allow employees to take a 10-minute break for every four hours worked. The breaks should be provided during the middle of the work period and employees must be relieved of all duties, according to state guidance.
Employers often run into trouble when they use timekeeping systems that automatically deduct breaks from workers' hours. Several employers have agreed to large settlements after being hit with such claims. While this practice is not necessarily illegal, missteps can easily lead to class action lawsuits under the FLSA, attorneys previously told HR Dive.