Is Your Employer Cheating You On Your Pay? “Meal Break” Clue #1

Clue #1:  You’re an hourly employee who often has to work through lunch, but your employer automatically deducts half-hour “Meal Breaks” from your time,

  • Federal law: the Fair Labor Standards Act, requires that you be paid at least minimum wage (or overtime) for all working time.  If your employer knows or should have known that you did not take a half-hour meal break, it breaks the law in deducting that time
    • if the deduction means that your average pat was less than the minimum wage when your pay rate for that week, dividing total pay by hours actually worked, is less than the minimum wage; or
    • if you worked more than 40 hours that week, because the deduction means that you did not get time and a half for all hours worked over 40.
  • State law: Many States have wage payment laws requiring employers to pay the agreed hourly rate for all hours worked.

Example A: John worked from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. every day, five days a week, was paid $10.00 an hour, and took half-hour lunches.  He worked exactly 40 hours a week.  He was only paid for 37.5 hours because the company deducted an hour for lunch even though his supervisors knew he only took a half-hour break.  John should have been paid $400 a week, and instead was paid $375 a week.

  • FLSA: No violation, because he did not lose any overtime, and his regular rate was $ 9.37 an hour ($375 a week divided by 40 hours a week),, which is more than the minimum wage.
  • State wage payment laws: Violation, because John’s pay is short $25 a week.  Some State laws require double or triple payment, so John may have a claim worth $25 a week in some States with wage-payment laws, $50 a week in some States, and $75 a week in some States.

Example B: Same as above, but Mary was paid $5.25 an hour and $196.88 a week for 37.5 hours.  Because she actually worked 40 hours, her real hourly rate would have been $4.92 ($196.88 a week divided by 40 hours).

  • FLSA: Violation, because Mary was not paid the minimum wage.  Her claim is for 23 cents an hour (the difference between $5.15 an hour and $4.92 an hour) for 40 hours a week.  That’s $9.20 a week, plus $9.20 a week in liquidated damages, or a total of $18.40 a week.
  • State wage payment laws: Still a violation, because Mary’s pay is short 33 cents an hour (the difference between $5.25 an hour and $4.92 an hour) for 40 hours a week.  That’s $13.20 a week, so John may have a claim worth $13.20 a week in some States with wage-payment laws, $26.40 a week in some States, and $39.60 a week in some States.

Example C: Susan worked from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. every day, five days a week, was paid $10.00 an hour, and ate lunch at her desk/while she was working.  The law counts time spent eating while working as work time, and counts meal breaks of 20 minutes or less as work time, so she worked exactly 42.5 hours a week.  Susan was paid for only 40 hours because the company deducted half an hour for lunch even though her supervisors knew she worked while she ate.  Susan should have been paid $15 an hour (time and a half) for 2.5 hours a week.  Her pay is short $37.50 a week.

  • FLSA: Violation, because she was not paid overtime.  This is a good case for liquidated damages, and her claim would be for $37.50 a week in back pay, and another $37,50 a week in liquidated damages,
  • State wage payment laws: Violation, because she should have been paid at least $10.00 an hour for the additional 2.5 hours.  Her claim is worth $25 a week, plus liquidated damages that might bring it to $50 or $75 a week in some States.


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