12 Jun 2019

What the Law Says About Being Denied Breaks at Work

Are you being denied proper breaks at work? Here are your options

Regular breaks have been shown to improve workplace efficiency and help maintain employee health, but sadly, some companies try their hardest to minimize employee breaks. If you feel like your employer is not giving you the breaks you deserve, this guide will show you how to handle the situation.

Legal Requirements for Work Breaks

The very first thing you need to do is figure out whether your employer is actually doing anything that breaks a law. You might feel like you are not getting enough breaks, or your breaks might be shorter than they were at another job, but you cannot take legal action unless your employer has somehow violated local or federal work break laws.

On a nationwide level, federal work break laws mean that employers do not have to give employees a meal or rest break. However, if an employer does grant any smaller rest breaks of less than 20 minutes, they have to pay the employee. If the employer provides lunch breaks, they have to either let the employee be completely off-duty, or they have to pay the employee for the entire lunch period.

There are 25 states that do have legally mandated break times, so you will need to check your location to see what the rules are. There are also some additional legal requirements for breaks if you are under 16, if you are a nursing mother, or if you have a union contract that mandates breaks. 

How to Handle a Company That Denies Proper Breaks

Once you know your rights and are certain that your company is not providing you with your rightful breaks or payment, it is time to take action. One of the first things you should do is start thinking about proof. Collect time cards or other evidence that you are not getting the breaks you deserve. Then you should talk to your boss. If they do not listen, consider speaking to a human resources department or another manager. This is an important step because you typically cannot sue the company unless you can show they were aware of the problem and did not address it. 

If your employer still does not provide you with breaks, there are a variety of things you can do to stand up for your rights.

Contact the Department of Labor

The Department of Labor handles most work break issues, like having to work through an unpaid lunch break. You can contact them to report the issue, and then they can look into it and force your employer to provide you with your breaks or payment. There are also state Department of Labor offices you can report to if any state laws are being violated.

File an OSHA Complaint

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can provide help in some cases. OSHA complaints normally are not relevant for meal breaks or rest breaks. However, they do handle issues where an employee is not allowed restroom breaks or issues where an employee must rest due to safety concerns. They can also address situations where an employee faces discriminatory actions after complaining about health or safety concerns. 

Launch a Lawsuit

In addition to filing formal complaints with all the relevant departments, you may want to consider a lawsuit. Typically, the best option is to do a class action lawsuit with your employees. If you can show that your company is not complying with labor laws and their behavior is negatively impacting you, you may be eligible for compensation. There is plenty of precedent for this, with big companies like Walmart being ordered to pay millions of dollars for preventing their employees from taking breaks. 

Get Help From a Legal Professional

Since each case is different, it can be hard to figure out exactly what you should do if you think you are being denied breaks. If you do not know how to handle your situation, talking with an employment law attorney can be a good idea. They will know more about local laws for breaks and help you figure out what complaints or lawsuits you need to file. Having an expert attorney on your side can help ensure you get the rights you deserve.