Break time is always a source of discussion as well as headaches in terms of monitoring and tracking it. While federal law does not require any breaks, Maine law does for any shifts over 6 hours in length where there are three or more employees working at one time. Many employers provide a couple 15 minute breaks as well, but those are not required. Under both federal and state law, breaks of less than 20 minutes must be paid. If an employee works through a 30 minute break, or, for example, takes only 15 minutes, that person must be paid for that time and no deduction for a break may be made. If the employee takes a break of 20 minutes or longer, that time does not have to be paid. Automatic deductions by payroll systems of a 30 minute lunch break can be risky if there is no process in place for reversing that deduction when an employee works that time and for tracking when an employee works through an otherwise unpaid break. Having an automated system does not permit non-payment of break time that an employee works through. All of a non-exempt employee’s time must be both accurately recorded and paid.
An exempt employee, one who is not entitled to overtime pay, must meet two tests to be exempt: they must be truly salaried and they must perform exempt work. A number of employers forget about part two of the test and assume that simply putting someone on salary is all that needs to be done. On the issue of breaks, there should be no deduction for breaks at all from exempt workers for them to remain exempt. To meet the salary part of the test, they must be paid their salary each week regardless of the “quality or quantity of work” performed.
This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of wage and hour laws in the workplace. Rebecca Webber is an employment attorney at Skelton, Taintor & Abbott in Auburn, Maine. You can contact her at 784-3200 (telephone); or rwebber@STA-law.com. Skelton, Taintor & Abbott is a full service law firm providing legal services to individuals, companies, and municipalities throughout Maine. It has been in operation since its founding in 1853.