Misconceptions About Employee Pay for Meal Break and Rest Periods

employee_rest_periodsYou may not realize that in Michigan, most employers are not legally required to allow workers either paid or unpaid meal breaks or rest periods. There are a few exceptions to this rule, and there are a few other things about this aspect of wage-and-hour law of which workers should be aware.

Misconception #1: “All workers are entitled to rest or meal breaks during a shift.”

Michigan employment law only requires employers to provide breaks to employees under eighteen years of age. These workers are entitled to a thirty-minute uninterrupted rest period if they are scheduled to work for more than five continuous hours.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide employees with toilet facilities and prohibits them from imposing “unreasonable restrictions on the facilities’ use.” It further directs that employees should not “take an excessive amount of time for bathroom use and should notify another employee of his or her absence when appropriate.” However, the agency notes that “due to the varying nature of bathroom necessity, no specific regulations exist.”

Misconception #2: “Employers can make workers punch out for short breaks.”

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies to many individuals working in Michigan. Neither federal nor state law requires employers to offer any break time in the first place. If an employer chooses to allow employees to take short breaks of five to 20 minutes, however, the FLSA requires that they must be paid for this time. Breaks of 30 minutes or more need not be paid so long as employees are completely relieved from any work duties. Even if employees are not allowed to leave the work site during such a break, this time can be unpaid as long as employees don’t have to do any work.

Misconception #3: “There are no legal protections for breastfeeding mothers.”

Although Michigan’s Breastfeeding Antidiscrimination Act took effect in June 2014 to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public or private businesses, there are still no state laws protecting breastfeeding in Michigan workplaces.

Until recently, the FLSA did not address the rights of breastfeeding mothers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which took effect on March 23, 2010, amended the FLSA. The new provisions require that employers provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” A bathroom, even if private, does not fulfill the requirements. However, a space that is temporarily converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient so long as the space is shielded from view and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.

The FLSA nursing break time requirements do not preempt other state laws that provide greater protections to employees (for example, providing compensated break time, providing break time for FLSA-exempt employees, or providing break time beyond one year after the child’s birth).

Misconception #4: “Breaks cannot be reasonable accommodations.”

If an employee has a disability, impairment, or injury, he or she may be entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, a worker may request reasonable accommodations that would enable or allow him or her to perform the essential functions of his or her job. A worker and employer should engage in an interactive process to discuss appropriate and reasonable accommodations for the worker’s situation, which might include taking breaks. Depending on the individual needs of the employee and the employer, breaks may be a reasonable accommodation. It’s not necessary for an employer to offer breaks to all employees if they provide breaks as a reasonable accommodation for an employee under the ADA.

Misconception #5: “Employees must be paid for ‘standby’ or ‘on call’ periods.”

Michigan minimum wage law provides no guidance on whether employees must be paid for hours that they are on call, traveling for work, or engaged in training or education required for certifications or other components of their jobs (i.e., “hours worked” that must be compensated). There is no rule regarding whether or not an employer is required to pay an employee if they come to work but do not actually perform work for some or all of the time they are present (e.g., if an employer mandates that the employee go “on break” or remain available to start working during a scheduled shift).

FLSA provides more guidance for covered employers regarding sleep time, travel time, on-call periods, waiting, and training time. Under the FLSA, hours worked ordinarily include all the time during which an employee is required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace. Time that an employee spends “on call” may be compensable if the employee is limited in how far they can travel from the employer’s premises or the activities they can engage in while on call.

Wage and hour questions can get complicated quickly. Figuring out what laws may apply to the employer, what remedies are available to employees, and how long a worker has to file a claim can be difficult. If you need guidance or assistance, please contact us today.

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