As an initial matter, it may come as a surprise that Federal and Ohio law generally do not require employers to provide rest or meal breaks to employees. One exception is Ohio Revised Code § 4109.07(C), which provides that minors must be allowed a rest period of at least thirty minutes for a shift of more than five hours.
Nonetheless, many employers allow or require employees to take rest or meal breaks, either paid or unpaid. Breaks are important for employee morale, and provide the required sustenance and physical respite to make it through the workday.
Unpaid Meal Periods under Ohio Wage Law and the Federal FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act)
Employees must be paid for all meal periods that are not “bona fide”. Bona fide meal periods are breaks during which employees are completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating a meal.
Employees must actually be relieved from duty if an employer doesn’t pay for meal periods – Workers generally must be paid if they are required to eat at their desk or machine, answer phones, respond to work-related inquiries or emails, or engage in any other duties.
Damages can add up even over short periods of time when employers don’t properly pay for non-bonafide meal periods.
For example, if an employer requires a worker to be at work 8 ½ hours each weekday with an unpaid ½ hour lunch period, but the employee works through lunch, the employee is entitled to 2 ½ hours of unpaid time at the end of the workweek (½ hour x 5 days). Since the employee worked 42 ½ hours during the workweek, and Ohio and Federal Law require workers to be paid time-and-a-half for all hours over 40 hours, there is an unpaid overtime violation.
Unpaid Rest Periods under Ohio Wage Law and the FLSA
Rest periods of 5 to 20 minutes are common in industry, promote efficiency, and generally should be paid as working time. If an employer does not pay workers for taking short breaks for things such as coffee or eating snacks, or to use the bathroom, the employer may be violating Ohio and Federal law entitling the employee to back pay, liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees.
This all being said, it is important to note that Federal law only allows recovery of unpaid overtime for a period of up to 3 years in the case of willful violations, and 2 years for non-willful violations. Therefore, it is important for employees to exercise their rights to be paid properly promptly.
If you have not been paid for all time worked McDermott Law LLC may be able to help. Feel free to call (216) 367-9181 for a Free Consultation and to discuss your options with a Licensed Attorney.