While it was not always the case, many governments now typically enact comprehensive legislation that protects the rights of employees from abusive work environments. This legislation may include labor laws for breaks that are offered to employees, but if it does not, those protections are generally accounted for locally through statutes or oversight of the local regulatory body. The two main types of labor laws for breaks pertain to meal breaks and shorter rest periods. Unpaid meal breaks are usually required for a half an hour if the employee is scheduled to work for a particular length of time. Paid rest periods ranging anywhere from five to twenty minutes are often required as well depending on the industry and the jurisdiction.
In the early part of the 1900s, the developed world was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution — a rapid expansion of industry that led to new levels of economic prosperity. However, with the focus on generating output in the most efficient manner, there was little consideration for the low level workers in these operations. As a result, conditions were very poor and the quality of life and health went down for workers in these factories. As the century progressed, governments started addressing conditions by developing legislation to protect these vulnerable workers, including labor laws for breaks.
Labor laws for breaks are generally only applicable to workers who qualify as “employees” and not independent contractors. While there are several distinctions one could make between the two, the general rule is that if the worker has his day regularly dictated on the premises of the business, he is an employee, and the laws will apply to all the time that employee works. Even if they are not on the premises, then time worked includes any time the employee is required to be “on call.” In some cases, travel time will apply as well.
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The strictest regulations are generally those which pertain to breaks for meals. A typical example of labor laws for breaks regarding meals dictate that for any work day scheduled beyond five hours, the employee is entitled to 30 minutes of unpaid meal time. Further, the employee must be relieved of all duty during that time and not required to remain on call unless the particular nature of the job requires for safety that the employee remain as such. Labor laws for breaks also sometimes provide for a paid period of rest, or a “coffee break” that is typically around 10 to 15 minutes for every four hour shift.
Employer penalties for violations of labor laws for breaks vary by jurisdiction, but are fairly consistent. Often, the employer will be forced to pay the employee wages for the aggregate amount of time they were denied breaks, plus interest, as well as a fine to the administrative body that governs the jurisdiction’s labor laws. If the violations were particularly egregious, they may be required to pay punitive damages to the employee, and may face criminal charges.