Many Alabama workers question whether or not their employers are required to give them meal or rest breaks during their shifts. The answer depends on the nature of the break. There are both federal and state laws that govern an employee's entitlement to breaks and whether those breaks must be paid. So, are you entitled to breaks?
Do I have a right to a break?
It may surprise you that federal law does not require employees to provide breaks during the day. In other words, you do not have a right to a lunch break or even short breaks during your work hours. However, if an employer gives you short breaks, they must be paid breaks. Of course, most employers give breaks as a matter of policy or practice, typically because employees who are hungry or tired are not as productive. Yet, federal law does not require employers to do so.
What if I work through my break?
Under federal law, employers must pay for all hours worked, including time that an employer designates as a "break." For instance, if an employee has to work through lunch, they must be paid for that time. A receptionist who is required to cover the phones or wait for deliveries during lunch, must be paid for that time. An administrative assistant who eats lunch at her desk while working, or a delivery person who eats lunch while driving to the next delivery, must also be paid for that time. Regardless of whether the employer refers to this time as a lunch break, the employee is still entitled to be paid.
You must be paid for short breaks, if allowed
While an employer is not required by federal law to provide short breaks, if they choose to provide them, employees must be paid for those breaks. Any break that lasts from 5-20 minutes is considered part of the workday, and employees must be paid for that time.
Bona fide meal breaks
Employers are not required to provide a meal break, nor are they required to allow employees to leave the workplace for a meal break. If a bona fide meal break is provided, the employer is not required to pay for that time. A "bona fide" meal breaks is one in which the employee is relieved of all duties for the purpose of eating a meal.
Alabama does not require meal or rest breaks
Some states require employers to provide rest breaks, a meal break, or both. Alabama does not. In Alabama, employers must follow the federal rules, but no other requirements are imposed.
If you feel you have been denied the pay to which you are entitled, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.