Reader writes -> Hi Tom! As usual – great reading. Could you address best practice with regards to breaks (smoking or otherwise) and lunch breaks?
Tom replies -> Be glad to do so. First, there should be no such thing in your business as a smoke break (see below). Second, breaks aren’t required by federal law but some states do. In my experience most states don’t, however. If you allow breaks, don’t formalize them when everyone is on break, rather the supervisor usually specifies if guidance is needed.
NON-PAID LUNCH break is required by law everywhere usually when a worker is scheduled to work six hours or more in one shift. For elaboration on these points, click on “Read the rest of this entry” below …
1) SMOKE BREAK: There should be no such thing as a smoke break. If you allow a smoker a break, you should allow a non-smoker the same. Smokers, in essence, have no rights to smoke in your facility or grounds. Non-smokers usually feel discriminated against if you allow smokers breaks but not them. I don’t know of any case law that found an employer liable because of this, but it is definitely a morale issue.
2) BREAKS TYPICALLY NOT REQUIRED: Breaks typically are NOT required by law of employers in MOST states rather have grown up through tradition (there’s no legal requirement for vacation either but it is traditional for the employer to grant vacation in order to be competitive for workers). Where breaks are REQUIRED BY LAW, they usually are 15 minutes within each four hours worked (here’s where your local employment at law attorney comes into play for specific advice). People scheduled to work for less than four hours typically receive no required break. Most companies who voluntarily set up breaks typically allow up to 15 minutes.
3) IF YOU ALLOW BREAKS, DO NOT set a time when all workers should take a break. Breaks should be granted with the permission of the supervisor. “May I check out for break now?” In fact, if you watch some of the fast food places, you will see the supervisor telling individual workers, “Sam, take your break now. Mary, you go in thirty minutes” …. Ya da. IF you formalize breaks, then I would recommend you use this procedure, however I don’t recommend you formalize breaks.
The most production time lost is upon start-up of the day and shut-down. Folks show up at 8 am and really do their first bit of work at 8:30. Workers leave at 5, so they begin shutting down at 4:15. This same phenomena happens when you introduce a formalized break where everyone takes it at the same time. Fortunately, I’ve rarely ran into this being done by printers (usually when a printer buys a formally union shop).
4) RECOMMENDATION: DO NOT FORMALIZE BREAKS. “We don’t have formal breaks around here. If you have to go to the bathroom; go to the bathroom but don’t take all day. If you need to grab a soft drink, you may do so. Otherwise you are expected to be working at your job.” Under this scenario, breaks are indistinguishable from paid work hours so breaks are effectively paid.
5) PAID BREAKS: Nowhere that I know of requires any break to be paid. For informal breaks (see 4 above), most businesses do not require the worker to clock out. IF it is a formal break period, then workers usually do clock out and it is unpaid. Again, the most typical situation is that we don’t formalize the break and avoid all of this.
6) NON-PAID LUNCH break is required by law everywhere that I know and usually is required when a worker is scheduled to work 6 hours or more in one shift. Again, the supervisor should assign WHEN the lunch break should be taken (fast food example above) and it is not guaranteed that it will be at a specific time or in a specific order. Usually it depends on the specific workload.
Alright. Those are some answers off the top of the head. Hit me back if you have specifics that I haven’t covered …. And thanks for the question….