DECIPHERING EMPLOYEE BREAKS—WHAT IDAHO EMPLOYERS SHOULD KNOW

There are no federal or Idaho state laws that require employers to give their employees breaks during the work day.  However, if an employer chooses to provide breaks for their employees, then there are federal and Idaho state statutes that regulate employee breaks.  Union employees may have a collective bargaining agreement with their employer, where that agreement discusses the frequency and duration of employee breaks.

PAYING FOR BREAKS

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides guidelines for the payment of employee breaks. The FLSA applies to employers whose annual sales total at least $500,000 or employers who are engaged in interstate commerce. Under the FLSA, an employee who takes a break that is 20 minutes or less must be paid for their break time at their normal rate. This includes meal, religious, health, and most likely restroom breaks—as long as the break is under 20 minutes. An employer does not have to pay an employee for a break if: (1) the break is longer than 20 minutes; and (2) the employee is relieved of all work during the break. Unauthorized breaks, or the extension of approved breaks, do not have to be compensated for when the employer expressly and unambiguously conveyed the duration of the break to the employee. Additionally, a “meal break” of over 20 minutes can be unpaid, even if the employee is not allowed to leave the work site.

AN ASSORTMENT OF BREAKS TO CHOOSE FROM

Meal Breaks:

Because Idaho has no statute regulating breaks for meals, an employer may change or eliminate his or her break policy at any time, even if perceived as unfair. An Idaho employer has broad discretion over permitting meal breaks and their duration.

Religious Breaks:

Some employees may need breaks during the work day because of a required religious practice—such as prayer. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations, such as breaks, to employees whose religious principles may require it. If making such an accommodation imposes an “undue burden” on the employer, then the employer is not obligated to grant such a request. An undue burden is anything more than a de minimis expense—too costly or too difficult for the employer to provide.

Health Breaks:

Particular employees may need a break during the day to care for their own health needs. If an employee is able to perform all of the essential functions of his or her job with a reasonable accommodation, then the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the employer to provide that employee with an accommodation. For example, a reasonable accommodation may include giving a diabetic employee a break so that the employee may take his or her insulin shot. As with religious breaks, if creating the accommodation creates an undue burden on the employer, then the employer is not required to provide the accommodation.

Restroom Breaks:

Although there is no federal law requiring the quantity or duration of restroom breaks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has interpreted a section of its Sanitation Standard ordering employers to make restroom facilities available to employees. Medical studies have shown the importance of regular urination, and prolonged urinary retention can be potentially adverse to the health of some employees (i.e. UTIs). Any restriction on the access to restrooms must be reasonable and may not cause extended delays. For certain companies, like assembly lines of industrial plants, an employee who takes regular restroom breaks could be disruptive to the business process. To avoid these concerns, employers can implement a signal system where the employee who needs to use the restroom signals another employee to provide relief.  Employers need to remember that the frequency in which employees will use the restroom will vary by the individual.

Other Breaks:

Under the FLSA, an employer must provide female employees time to “express breast milk for her nursing child … each time such employee has the need to express milk.” The employer also needs to provide a private area for the employee to “express milk.” The employer is not required to compensate the employee for this time. However, if the employer normally pays employees during breaks, and an employee used the break to express milk, then she must also be compensated.  There is no law compelling employers to provide, or pay for, smoking breaks.

INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS

  • If providing breaks to employees, clearly write out the break policy in an employee manual or other document. The policy should include the type of break given (i.e. meal, restroom, etc.), duration of the break, and the discipline protocol for violation of the policy.
  • Work closely with your employees to find a mutually satisfactory break schedule, especially if some employees require accommodations.
  • Employee complaints regarding the break policy, or the use of bathroom facilities, should be evaluated promptly on a case-by-case basis.
  • If breaks are paid, then employers need to make sure that the employee is receiving overtime, when applicable.
  • Remember, there are federal and state laws that regulate breaks for minors in the workplace. Know the laws that apply to you and comply with them.
  • Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or if you have questions about any employment issues facing your company.