Working Through Lunch: A FLSA Violation

It might almost seem natural in today’s high paced world to find employees eating lunch at their desks, at meetings, or sneaking in bites while answering phones. However, if you are an employee who is covered by the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and you are working through your unpaid lunch breaks, this seemingly normal scenario is actually a violation of the law.

Who is covered by the FLSA?

The FLSA was enacted to protect employees from harsh working conditions and from employers who exploited individuals who were desperate for work during the Great Depression. The law created the federal minimum wage, the 40 hour workweek and the obligation of employers to pay overtime wages, set at time and a half, for any extra hours worked in a workweek.

The law covers any employer bringing in at least $500,000 in sales annually, and any employer who is engaged in interstate commerce. Courts have taken a broad approach in interpreting what constitutes interstate commerce, and as a result, most places of employment are covered by the FLSA.

Employees may or may not be covered. Generally, employees who make a high salary might be exempt from the protections of the FLSA. Executive and administrative employees, and professionals like doctors, dentists, and lawyers are exempt. So are certain hourly employees in specific fields of work, though other laws typically exist to create protections for these employees. However, most hourly employees are covered by the act.

What constitutes working through lunch?

First off, a lunch break is a break of 30 minutes or longer. Shorter breaks such as a 15 minute break, are actually considered work time and you should be compensated for that time just as you would with any other time worked. As for lunch breaks, it is possible that you do not mind sitting at your desk to eat, or having lunch meetings. However, the truth is, if your lunch break is not a true and complete break from work, then you are meant to be compensated for that time. If your employer requests that you take your unpaid lunch break at your desk, and that you continue to sign for packages, answer phones or otherwise continue with work related tasks, then that is a violation of the FLSA.

Unpaid lunch breaks that are not really breaks might mean you are missing overtime pay.

Let’s say you work a 40 hour workweek, and have one hour of unpaid lunches each day. If your employer insists that you work through your lunchbreak every day, then you are actually working for 45 hours a week, and putting in 5 hours of overtime pay. Assuming you and your employer are both covered by the FLSA, this is a violation of both the requirement that you are paid for all of the time that your work, and also a violation of the overtime requirements.

So in this case, if you make $10 an hour, you are getting $400 a week. The missed lunch hours do not just mean that you should be making $450 though, because the 5 extra hours should be paid at a rate of $15 dollars an hour. You should be getting paid $475.

Additionally, this creates a potential violation of the minimum wage. If an employee making the minimum wage is working 45 hours a week, but only paid for 40 hours a week, then the average he or she is making is going to be less than the minimum wage.

What can I do if my employer is not paying me for all of the hours that I work?

If your employer is in violation of the FLSA, then you can report them to the Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor. You should also speak with an experienced employment law attorney to ensure that your rights are being protected and to collect the compensation you are owed for all of the work that you have done.

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At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with you to find the best solution to your employment law related legal issues. Contact Stern Law, PLLC today at (844) 808-7529 for a free consultation with an experienced employment attorney.

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