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Does your employer have to pay you for breaks?

If your employer offers a break schedule, then they usually have to pay you for short break periods that are under 20 minutes. Typically, employers might create policies that allow employees to take restroom, coffee or other breaks that last five to 15 minutes. These are not the same as lunch breaks.

Note that it's a common misconception that federal law requires lunch and coffee breaks. This is true in some circumstances, such as with minor workers, and state and local laws might require different break structures. What federal law does require, however, is that employers count allowed nonlunch break times toward the amount you are compensated each pay period.

What does that mean for you? It means that if an employer has a policy that allows a 10-minute break in the morning and another in the afternoon, the company can't dock your pay by 20 minutes a day if you choose to take those break times. It does not mean, however, that your employer has to pay you if you extend your 10-minute break to 30 minutes.

Why is this important? Many employees don't bother to keep track of their time worked and check it against their pay each period, but mistakes can happen. Tally your time according to the law so you can make sure your employer is doing the same. If you see a mistake on your time card or paycheck, report it immediately for resolution.

Employers have a legal obligation to pay you appropriately for the time you work, and that includes overtime. Those break periods count toward overtime accrual too. If you believe your employer isn't paying you according to the time you work and the company refuses to make a correction, consider speaking with an employment law professional to understand your options.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, "Breaks and Meal Periods," accessed Aug. 19, 2016

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