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To Eat or Not to Eat? Managing Meal and Rest Periods

May 16, 20243 min read

Ensuring employees adhere to state and federal mandates surrounding meal and rest periods is incredibly important during optimal times. It is crucial now more than ever with so many employees working remotely that managers hold their employees accountable for taking their required meal and rest periods and are documenting such breaks accordingly, and that such time worked is appropriately compensated.

When it comes to managing teleworking employees, it is vital to ensure compliance with federal, and state, and local wage and hour laws which are different depending on the classification of your employees:

Exempt Employees

Exempt employees must be paid for the entire workweek during which they perform any amount of work as their “primary duty” for the employer. PTO or vacation/sick may be taken in full or half day increments (depending on your internal policies), but the employee’s full salary must be compensated for that workweek if they have performed any work. If an employee performs NO work for the employer, the full week may be taken off as unpaid as in compliance with organizational policies. It is additionally important to note that exempt employees must still be paid their full, weekly salaries for absences taken at the employer’s discretion or based on operational requirements.

In addition to communicating expectations and reiterating your internal policies regarding meal and rest periods, strongly encourage your exempt employees to work their regularly scheduled hours if possible.

Nonexempt Employees

Generally, nonexempt employees must be compensated for any and all work performed during the workweek. The schedules of nonexempt employees may be reduced due to a decrease in demand or due to closures, with pay reflecting that cut accordingly. The biggest thing to focus on with nonexempt employees is ensuring that time is logged and monitored accordingly and in compliance with federal, state, and local wage and hour laws. Consider the following to make certain no violations arise:

  • Depending on the time tracking system your organization uses, many remote employees do not have access to a physical time punching system. While it is ideal if you have software that provides online access, what do you do if you don’t have that type of system? A simple spreadsheet to be submitted daily, indicating when an employee punches in and out throughout the day is one common method.

  • Alternatively, have your employees email you when they start their day, communicating expectations of when meal and rest breaks are to be taken and logged, with these emails and entries being logged and monitored closely.

  • Communicate to your employees your policy on meal and rest breaks, ensuring that laws and expectations are outlined and understood. CLEARLY communicate that all hours worked when working remotely must be logged accurately.

    • Additionally, communicate your policy on the use of overtime, particularly the authorization (or prohibiting unauthorized) of working overtime.

Contact us if you have any questions on regulations that may apply to your organization, or for assistance on implementing a policy on meal and rest periods or a system for effective time tracking.

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