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The law regarding workplace breaks and meals

New York employees may be surprised to learn that their employers may be required to compensate them for the time they spend taking breaks or eating their meals. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act provides some guidance with respect to these matters.

According to the FLSA, employers must compensate their employees for the time they are required or permitted to work. When employees take a break or eat a meal, the Department of Labor requires them to be compensated, unless they are not engaged in their employment at all.

However, the employees must meet certain criteria if they want to be paid during their breaks. The employee must remain on the employer's premises, refrain from running personal errands, and be on call and readily available to perform any job-related duties, among other requirements.

Most courts when ruling on these matters in wage and hour cases apply a totality of the circumstances test. This is based on a number of factors, such as whether the terms of a collective bargaining agreement applies to the circumstances, the amount and length of interruptions employees face and the restrictions imposed on the activities of employees who must remain on the employer's premises.

Employees who believe they have not been fully compensated for their work hours might wish to discuss their wage disputes with an employment law attorney. The attorney could work to determine if they should have been paid for all the hours they spent while engaged in work duties, even during break and meal periods.

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