Breaks and Lunches
Employers determine if and when employees can take a break or lunch period. If an employer provides work breaks or lunches, the employer determines the length of the break and lunch period.
There is no federal law or Arizona state law that says employers must provide breaks and lunches. There are mandatory break and lunch period laws in some other states, but not Arizona.
Pay for Breaks and Lunches
The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), a federal law, tells those employers that provide breaks and lunches how to pay employees when taking a break or lunch.
Breaks – employers must pay employees during a break period. Therefore, if an employer provides 2 ten minute breaks during a shift, the employer must pay the employee during the breaks.
Lunch periods - - employers do not have to pay the employee for lunch periods. Employers usually provide lunch periods of thirty minutes or more. Under special conditions, employers can provide an unpaid lunch period shorter than 30 minutes.
In order for any lunch period to be unpaid, the employer must relieve the employee of all duties. For example, if the employer expects an employee to eat lunch at her desk and answer the phone when the phone rings, the employer has not relieved the employee of all duties. Because the employee is not relieved of all duties, the employer must pay the employee during this lunch period.
Other Important Things
1. Employers can limit an employee’s physical activity during a paid break. Many employers require the employee to remain on premises during any paid break or paid lunch.
2. If your employer has a paid break or lunch period policy, the employer may deny paid break or lunch to employees and does not have to provide the employees additional pay or more breaks the next day. For example, because of a very busy workload on a day, the employer does not let anyone take either of two ten minute paid breaks that day. The employer does not have to pay the employees an additional twenty minutes for the two paid breaks missed that day.
3. Employers determine when employees take breaks and lunch periods. For example, an employer’s normal workday is 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with a thirty minute unpaid lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m. So that the employee can get home earlier, the employee asks if she can work 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and not take the 30 minute non-paid lunch. The employee can deny this request.
What to Do if Your Rights Have Been Violated
If you believe your employer is not paying you properly for lunch and break periods, review your employer’s pay policy to determine who you should speak to and arrange a meeting with that person. Have a meeting with that person and explain why you feel you are not being paid correctly. Give the employer as many specific facts as you have. Listen to the employer’s explanation.
If, after speaking with your employer, you still think you are not being paid correctly, you should contact the Wage and Hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor. This is the contact information for the Arizona office.
Phoenix District Office
US Dept. of Labor
Wage & Hour Division
230 N. First Avenue, Suite 402
Phoenix, AZ 85003-1725
You must file a complaint within two years from the incident of your last improper payment. However, a cause of action arising out of a willful violation may be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrued.
Individuals may also file a private lawsuit in Federal or state court within two years from the last incident – three years if the violation is willful. Individuals filing a private lawsuit should consult with and be represented by an attorney.