Many veterinarians have inquired into the legal requirements of providing their employees with lunch or rest breaks. The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require that employers provide any form of lunch or rest periods to employees. However, it does place obligations on those employers who choose to do so. It is important to ensure that veterinary employers who provide lunch or break periods to employees are in compliance with state and federal law.
If an employer offers short breaks [five (5) to twenty (20) minutes] to its employees, the Fair Labor Standards Act considers the break as compensable work hours. These breaks of short duration should be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and must be considered in determining whether the employee worked overtime. According to the federal law, as long as the employer has clearly communicated the length of the break to the employee and that any extension of the break is against company policy, unauthorized extensions of these work breaks do not need to be counted towards hours worked.
Employers are not legally required to compensate employees for meal periods of thirty (30) minutes or more, provided that the employees are free to use their meal period as they wish and are not required to perform work during this time. These bona fide meal periods serve a different purpose than short work breaks and are therefore not considered work time and are not compensable. However, if an employee works during a lunch break that is intended to be unpaid, the veterinary employer may be obligated to pay additional wages to that employee, including unintended overtime. To prevent employees from working during unpaid meal or lunch periods, a veterinary employer should implement policies requiring employees to eat away from their work space. This will ensure that the veterinary employer will not be liable for paying employees during that time.
Stuart J. Oberman, Esq. handles a wide range of legal issues for the veterinary profession including employment law, practice sales, real estate transactions, lease agreements, OSHA compliance, veterinary board complaints, employment law, and entity formation.
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