As an hourly worker, you do not receive pay during your daily lunch break. However, your employer sometimes interrupts your lunch break and instructs you to perform a work-related task. If you leave your meal break, does your employer have to pay you for the time that you spend working?
Yes. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers have a duty to pay employees for their labor—even if they had already begun a meal break. Employers who try to stiff you on your pay—even if it is for only a quarter of an hour or so—are breaking the law. Take, for example, a recent case in which a security company under-paid its employees to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Unpaid meal breaks and unpaid wages
Security guards at four Hawaiian airports realized that that their employer, a security company named Securitas Security Services USA Inc., was not paying the wages they had earned. The workers’ supervisors would often interrupt their daily meal breaks and instruct them to return to work. Securitas, however, would automatically deduct the unpaid meal period from the workers’ pay checks.
Several employees teamed up and reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which investigates alleged wage and hour violations. The Department of Labor determined that Securitas had violated the workers’ rights under the FLSA and ordered the company to pay $176,500 in back wages.
How the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to you
The federal legislature created the FLSA to protect workers’ right to fair pay. The key elements of the FLSA are that:
- Employers must pay minimum wage
- Employers must pay time and a half for overtime work
- Employers must keep records of employees’ time and pay
If your employer is withholding your pay for unpaid breaks even if you are working during them, you may have a case for an FLSA violation. Like the airport workers, you have the right to discuss this issue with your colleagues and to explore your legal options. By reporting the wage and hour violation, you may be able to recover back wages plus additional compensation.