Lunch breaks – and other breaks – are a normal part of most employees’ work days. Under Massachusetts law, M.G.L. c. 149, s. 100, employers must provide employees with a thirty-minute meal break after working for six consecutive hours. Many employers provide longer breaks, such as one hour for lunch. When an employer provides an employee with any break that is longer than 20 minutes, it may be paid or unpaid.
However, the break must be paid if, during the break, the employee performs work, is assigned work duties, or is required to remain at the job site. Many employers give employees breaks by using a shortcut. Rather than have employees clock in and clock out for breaks, they automatically deduct time from employees’ hours each day. These “auto deduct” or “auto deduction” policies often result in employees going unpaid for work they perform. The Massachusetts wage regulations at 454 CMR 27.02 define compensable “working time” as follows:
Working Time. Includes all time during which an employee is required to be on the employer’s premises or to be on duty, or to be at the prescribed work site or at any other location, and any time worked before or after the end of the normal shift to complete the work. Working time does not include meal times during which an employee is relieved of all work-related duties.
This means that, when employees work through lunch, are assigned duties during their break periods (such as answering a phone or radio), or are prohibited from leaving the job site during the meal break, they must be paid wages for that time. Yet, because many employers utilize inflexible, automatic time deduction policies that do not take into account work during lunch breaks, these wages often go unpaid.
Auto deduct policies also regularly collide with employers’ recordkeeping duties. Massachusetts law, as set forth at 454 CMR 27.07(2), requires that the employer – not the employee – keep a true and accurate record of all time worked:
For each employee, the employer shall keep a true and accurate record of the employee’s name, complete address, social security number, occupation, amount paid each pay period, hours worked each day, rate of pay, vacation pay, any deductions made from wages, any fees or amounts charged by the employer to the employee, [and] dates worked each week …
An employer’s obligation to keep a record of all hours worked means that the employer must keep track of hours worked during lunch. If the employer knows – or would know through reasonable inquiry – that an employee is working during a break, it must pay the employee wages for that time. Because it is the employer’s duty to accurately record time, the employer cannot avoid paying wages by blaming the employee for failing to report the time worked.
If you perform work, are assigned duties, or are prohibited from leaving your job site during your lunch break, feel free to contact us to confidentially discuss your situation and your rights with one of our employment law attorneys.