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What Workers Should Know About Meal Breaks Part 1

Every worker needs a meal break, but most employees are not aware of their legal rights when it comes to that important midday or evening mealtime. In this two-part article, we will explain everything you need to know about breaks and the wage and hour laws associated with them. Remember, if you are an employee with any wage and hour concerns, a Tampa wage and hour attorney is here to assist you.

Florida Law for Meal Breaks

In Florida, there are no state laws related to meal or rest breaks for workers over the age of 18. However, minors must be provided with an uninterrupted 30-minute meal or rest break for every four consecutive hours worked. Most employers follow this same policy for their employees that are 18 and older; however, this isn’t required by law.

Federal Law for Meal Breaks

Similarly, there is no federal legislation for meal breaks; however, federal laws establish when an employee should be compensated during breaks. For breaks 20 minutes or less, this is considered time worked. For breaks that are at least 30 minutes or longer, this is time that should not be compensated. To qualify as unpaid time, the employee cannot be required to perform any work. Some businesses ignore this by requiring employees to eat at their desk or perform light tasks like answering the phone while on lunch. Other similar tasks include: checking emails in the office, greeting clients at the front desk, running work errands while away from the office, or cleaning up around your workstation.

Taco Bell’s Unique Case

In California, Taco Bell employees recently filed a class action lawsuit against the fast food company related to meal breaks. The employees claimed that they were forced to eat their lunch in the restaurant and believed they should be compensated for these meal breaks at work. Taco Bell countered that employees were allowed to leave for lunch breaks as long as they were not purchasing discounted food from their restaurant. The 9th Circuit Court sided with the employer stating that the company “exercised no control over their activities.” In other words, the employees were not required to stay at the restaurant unless they ordered the discounted food. However, the employees were “free to leave” otherwise and were not required to perform work-related tasks during meal breaks.

Although Taco Bell’s case was a win for the employer, many employers do require their employees to remain in their workplace and perform work-related tasks during their breaks. In the second part of this article, we will discuss some more nuances of wage and hour laws related to break time.

If you are interested in speaking with one of our Tampa wage and hour attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.