To Break or Not to Break, That is the Question: Employer Requirements Relating to Employee Breaks under Ohio and Federal Law
Many Ohio employers find themselves asking “Am I required to provide my employees with breaks during a work shift?” Most employers are surprised to discover that neither federal nor Ohio law require employers to provide employees eighteen years old and older with any breaks (lunch or otherwise) during a work shift. Ohio law does, however, require that employers provide employees under the age of eighteen a thirty (30) minute uninterrupted break when working five (5) or more consecutive hours (this may be an unpaid break).
Despite the lack of a legal requirement, most employers opt to provide their employee with breaks for more practical reasons – company morale, employee efficiency, etc. For those employers who provide their employee with breaks, the next question that usually arises is “Am I required to pay employees during breaks?” Federal law provides guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times, which can be broken down into one of the following two categories:
- Employers who provide employee breaks in excess of twenty (20) minutes do not have to pay an employee during such break (lunch periods or other break) if the employee actually takes the break and the employer releases control of the employee – i.e. the employee is free to leave the worksite and does not actually perform work. If the employee is required to do any duties (even minor duties such as making copies), it does not constitute a break and employers are required to pay the employee for such time.
- Employers who provide breaks twenty (20) minutes or shorter generally must pay employees for such break periods.
If you decide to provide unpaid breaks, here are a few tips to follow:
- All employees should be treated equally. In other words, if you provide one employee a break, all employees should be entitled to a break of equal time.
- Require employees to clock out at the start of a break and clock in upon return. This will allow you to track employees for purposes of time worked and wages owed. In turn, tracking breaks may reduce the chance of a dispute about unpaid overtime and whether an employee actually spent more than 40 hours working per week.