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Paid breaks vs. unpaid breaks

Unpaid breaks

If you're an employee in the state of Ohio or anywhere else in the U.S., you may not be fully aware of your rights or the laws pertaining to paid and unpaid work breaks.

By law, Ohio employers are not necessarily required to offer paid or unpaid breaks to employees. But most companies choose to offer breaks, and that means they must adhere to state and federal laws pertaining to paid and unpaid breaks.

Federal and state laws pertaining to paid breaks

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), paid breaks or "rest periods" are usually short (about 5-20 minutes). Compensable break time usually includes short bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and coffee breaks.

When employees take these kinds of short rest breaks, they generally must be compensated during that time under federal law (§785.18). If your employer asked you to clock out for a rest break that lasted 20 minutes or less, they may have violated the law.

How unpaid lunch breaks work

Most bona fide meal periods range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the number of hours worked in a daily shift. When you take an unpaid lunch break, that time is specifically yours. That means that you must be completely relieved of any work-related duties until your unpaid break time is over, under federal law (§785.19).

Your employer cannot interrupt your break or ask you to complete a work task during that time and still consider it an unpaid break. If your employer interrupts your 30-minute bona fide meal period (for example, by asking you to assist a customer while you are on break), then that must count as time worked and you must be paid for that time.

Meal period requirements vary from state-to-state. Ohio law does not mandate breaks at all (but, again, employers that do offer breaks must adhere to the federal laws outlined above). There are 19 states that currently have required unpaid breaks.

What are my rights if my employer violated the law?

In many cases, employers violate the laws pertaining to paid and unpaid breaks to reduce their own costs or get as much labor out of their employees as possible. If breaks are offered under the terms and conditions of your employment, then your employer is required to comply with both state and federal law.

If your employer failed to comply with the law, the wage law attorneys at Nilges Draher LLC can investigate and take necessary legal action. Our legal team will work tirelessly to help you get the compensation you're entitled to. We serve clients in Ohio and throughout the United States. Contact us online or call us for your free and confidential legal consultation.

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