What's Fair: The Amount of Time People Can Work Without a Break?

What's Fair: The Amount of Time People Can Work Without a Break?
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Need for Employee Breaks During Work

Business organizations are often faced with the dilemma of how much break time is necessary for their employees during work hours. There are two aspects to look at when evaluating the amount of time people can work without a break and the duration and frequency of the breaks required. The first aspect is the compliance with the federal and state labor laws with respect to breaks. The second aspect is maintaining the optimal employee motivation levels necessary in order to achieve high productivity.

Federal Law and Breaks between Work

Federal law in the United States does not govern the amount of time people can work without a break. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not regulate rest breaks or meal breaks between work periods, or even for holidays and vacations. However, in a situation where the employer voluntarily offers brief breaks that may last anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, the federal law views this break time as compensable. So this time gets included in the total worked hours when computing the employee’s wages or overtime.

However, if the employee is found extending his break time beyond what has been stipulated in the company policy, it is not compensable and may even be punishable. The federal law also differentiates between coffee breaks and meal breaks. It states that meal breaks, which typically last for at least half an hour or more, are not included in the work hours, and thus are not compensable. The FLSA also does not impose any limits on the number of hours an employee may work in a day, or the number of days he may work in a week, including overtime.

But the employers must note that state laws with respect to employee breaks are different from the FLSA regulations. There are a number of states in the U.S. that impose their own set of rules with regard to employee breaks between work periods. In fact, the city in which you have your business operations may also have its own requirements for the employer to follow with regard to employee breaks. Therefore, it is important to understand and interpret the local laws correctly when defining your company policy regarding work breaks for employees.

Importance of Breaks to Enhance Efficiency

The business organization must operate with a humane and sensitive approach when it comes to formulating policies pertaining to employee well-being. It is not humanly possible for an individual to operate at peak efficiency consistently through eight hours of work without a break. A short break provides a breather to rejuvenate the energies and allows the employee to get back to work with a renewed enthusiasm after the break. These seemingly small issues such as rest breaks and meal breaks actually represent the human face of the organization. They are the key factors that distinguish between a good organization and a great organization. Employee loyalty and top motivation levels cannot be achieved by money alone. Small measures like caring about employee breaks go a long way in creating high job satisfaction levels and an inner respect for the organization among the workforce.

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