Q: Are employers required to give salaried employees breaks during the work day? Does this differ from hourly employees, and if so, how?
A: There is no federal law requiring that employees--salaried or hourly--receive breaks during work time. However, if an organization has a union contract, that contract may provide for breaks, and some states have specific laws that mandate breaks as well.
For example, under Delaware law, when an employee works for at least seven and one-half consecutive hours, the employee must be given an unpaid meal break of at least 30 consecutive minutes. This meal break must be scheduled for some time after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours. However, this rule does not apply to certain professional employees or in the situation where there is a collective bargaining agreement, or some other written agreement between the employee and the employer, providing otherwise.
Under Illinois law, when an employee is scheduled to work continuously for seven and one-half hours (or more), the employee must be given at least a 20-minute meal break, beginning no later than five hours after the start of work. This requirement does not apply if there is a collective bargaining agreement, and also does not apply to employees who monitor individuals with developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, in certain situations.
Nevada law provides that employees must be given a meal period of at least 30 minutes for each continuous eight-hour work period. Nevada law also provides that employees must be allowed to take a rest period, or periods, that must occur in the middle of each work period, when practicable. The rest period(s) must be at least 10 minutes for each four hours (or major fraction of four hours) of work. However, no rest period is required when an employee's total daily work time is less than three and one-half hours, and the law does provide some exemptions from the requirements for certain employees and in specific situations.
By contrast, Arizona law does not mandate rest and meal periods for employees. Neither does Maryland or Michigan law. Thus, it is important for employers to check their particular state's laws for requirements, if any.
Even if employers are not required by applicable state law or a collective bargaining agreement to provide rest or meals periods, many employers still allow (if not encourage) employees to take breaks, as there are practical reasons for doing so. Indeed, regular breaks are salutary--they can lessen fatigue and increase employee morale and productivity. Conversely, not providing breaks can lead to unhappy, and thus less productive, employees.
It is important to bear in mind that short breaks (20 minutes or less) must be counted as paid time under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In the case of salaried employees, because they are not paid on an hourly basis, their break time is generally considered paid, as it is part of their salary--although extended time off away from the building (beyond the allowed break time) may be noted on their records or charged against their allotted leave time.
In sum, while not mandated by federal law, employers must check their state's laws for any requirements regarding breaks. Absent state law, an applicable collective bargaining agreement or some other contractual commitment, employers do not have to provide breaks to their employees--either salaried or hourly.
Leigh Ann Ciccarelli contributed to this article.
Note: The information in this column is provided by the author, not Entrepreneur.com. All answers are general in nature, not legal advice and not warranted or guaranteed. Readers are cautioned not to rely on this information. Because laws change over time and in different jurisdictions, it is imperative that you consult an attorney in your area regarding legal matters and an accountant regarding tax matters.
Larry Rosenfeld is co-chair of the national labor and employment practice of the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP. A frequent writer and lecturer on employment law topics, Rosenfeld is experienced in the areas of federal laws pertaining to employment issues, EEOC, ADA, termination matters, employment liability and the Fair Labor Standards Act.