The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes overtime pay, minimum wage, and other federal labor and employment laws. FLSA requires that employers compensate their nonexempt employees for every hour they are “suffered or permitted to work.” These hours are referred to as “work hours” or compensable time. Compensable time encompasses all hours that a nonexempt employee is on standby for the next assignment, and when employees are actively involved in productive tasks.
Many states, including Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming, do not require employers to provide meals or rest breaks to their nonexempt employees. However, many employers choose to provide breaks to their employees to help retain them and keep them feeling energized and motivated throughout the workday.
If employers decide to allow breaks, then short breaks, lasting 20 minutes or less, are generally considered as part of work hours, so they are still paid for by the employer.
However, there are occasions when breaks do not have to be paid for by employers. For example, if an employer has set a specific length of time for a break and the employee goes over that, then the employer is not required to pay them for the time they went over. If a nonexempt employee is required to perform any work during their break, they must be paid for the time spent working.
When meal periods last 30 minutes or more, it does not have to be compensated as work time. That being said, if employers are not going to pay employees during their meal breaks, then they must relieve them from any duties during that time. If an employee is required to answer emails or phone calls during their meal break, then employers must pay them for their time since they are still working.
If employees are completely uninterrupted and free of tasks during their meal break, then they do not have to be paid.
It is important for employers to determine ahead of time whether or not they will include breaks as work hours for nonexempt employees and clearly communicate that with employees, so everyone is on the same page.