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Can An Employer Take Automatic Deductions for Meal Breaks?

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Traditionally, hourly employees who clock-in and clock- out  at the beginning and end of their shift would also clock-out and for a meal-break. However, employers are now more frequently using an “automatic meal deduction.” This eliminates the need for an employee to clock-out for a meal break and instead, the employer automatically deducts its employees’ meal breaks from their time entries.

As long as the employee is actually receiving the full meal break, these types of “automatic deduction” policies are not in and of themselves illegal. However, these policies are often not correctly implemented, and the employees suffer the consequences.

Under Federal law, employers are not required to pay hourly-paid workers and other non-exempt employees for an uninterrupted, 30-minute meal break.  However, if during the meal break the employee is interrupted to perform work related duties (such as helping customers, answering phones, responding to emails, driving to make a delivery, etc.), the law may require that the employee is  paid for the entire 30-minute period.  In other words, an employer may only properly deduct meal break time if the employee was  “completely relieved of duty.”

Violations of the law typically occur when employers don’t have a policy or procedure in place that allows/instructs employees on reporting if they were interrupted during a meal break, or missed a break entirely, and therefore that day’s meal break should not be deducted.  Violations may also occur if management discourages the use of the reporting policy, or the policy is simply not followed by the employees. If the employer knows that employees are not getting their lunch breaks, the employer may need to change the timekeeping system to ensure that it accurately records when workers are and are not getting breaks.

In addition to these federal requirements, states may impose their own additional requirements regarding meal breaks.

Are you an employee who has been subject to an automatic meal deduction, and were not paid when you are interrupted during a meal break or when you missed a meal break? If so, you may be entitled to recover unpaid wages from a past or current employer  Remember, there are time limits within which actions must be brought—don’t miss your chance to recover wages you’ve already earned.

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ADVERTISING ONLY: The information on this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

Past results obtained by Biller & Kimble, LLC are no guarantee of future results. Each case or matter is different and must be judged on its own merits.