Do I Have to Be Paid for Breaks?

Meal and rest time requirements for Alabama employers

Although many Alabama employers customarily give their employees daily meal and rest breaks, it is important to understand that such time off is not mandated for most employers under either state or federal law. In fact, when it comes to “adult” workers who are at least 16 years old, there is no legal right whatsoever to a rest break for full-time workers. That said, when an employer does choose to offer such breaks, they may have to pay the employee for some of that time depending on the circumstances.

“In Alabama, it’s not a problem,” says  M. Tae Phillips, an employment attorney in Birmingham. “I’ve never seen any cases involving meal or rest periods, and the reason for that is because there is no state law in Alabama governing meal or rest periods.”

Here is a brief overview of the law in this area.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA is the primary federal statute that governs minimum wage and overtime pay in the United States. The FLSA applies to anyone working for an Alabama-based employer that does at least $500,000 in gross sales and conducts interstate commerce, as well as to employees whose work involves interstate commerce, such as a factory worker who produces goods that will be shipped out-of-state.

The FLSA does not require covered employers to offer any meal or rest periods to their employees. However, if an employer chooses to allow short breaks of up to 20 minutes during the workday, the FLSA does require the employees to be paid for this time. More precisely, the 20-minute break is considered “hours worked,” and therefore subject to the same minimum wage and overtime rules as all other time spent on-the-clock.

An Alabama employer should maintain a written policy regarding authorized break times to avoid confusion. For example, if an employer allows two 15-minute breaks per day, it only has to pay the employee for that time. If an employee then chooses to “extend” a break by 5 minutes, the employer does not have to pay for that unauthorized extension.

Now, the FLSA also provides that employers do not have to pay employees for any “bona fide meal periods.” This refers to time during the workday when an employee is “completely relieved for the purposes of eating regular meals.” Meal periods are typically at least 30 minutes long, although federal regulations do permit a shorter period “under special conditions.”

The phrase “completely relieved” is critical here. An employer must still pay a worker if they are required to perform any job-related tasks while eating. A common example is an office employee asked to cover the front desk or a factory worker told to remain at their station post while eating. In either case, this is not a “bona fide meal period,” but time that must be compensated.

Special Rules for Teenager Workers

Alabama follows the FLSA with respect to workers ages 16 and older. But for teenagers who are 14 or 15 and authorized to work, there are special state rules. Specifically, these workers must receive a 30-minute meal or rest break if they are scheduled to work at least 5 continuous hours during the workday.

If you have any additional questions about how the law affects meal or rest break periods for workers of any age, you should contact an Alabama employment law attorney today.

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