It comes as a shock to many people that the law does not guarantee you get paid for meal or lunch breaks during the workday. However, most employers understand everyone needs to use the restroom, grab a snack, eat a full meal, and take care of other tasks. When they do offer these breaks, they must follow strict rules about when you receive wages and when you do not. If your employer failed to follow these rules, you may have a claim for unpaid wages.

When your employer fails to pay you what you deserve, we can help you recover the compensation you rightfully deserve. Phil Gibbons at Gibbons Leis, PLLC can help you take on any company, no matter the size. Call us today at 704-612-0038 to schedule a consultation.

Are Meal and Rest Breaks Required Under Federal or North Carolina Labor Laws?

North Carolina law does not require mandatory meal breaks or rest breaks for employees who are age 16 or older.  Employees who are under the age of 16 must receive a meal break of at least 30 minutes after five hours work.  The Fair Labor Standards Act does not call for mandatory rest breaks for workers of any age. Many employers, however, do offer short breaks and/or unpaid meal breaks to hourly employees whose shift exceeds a certain length.

You should find information about this in your employee handbook, or from a human resources representative at your job. If your job does not have a clear policy on rest breaks and meal breaks, we can help you understand the federal and state laws that may apply in your case and determine if your employer is withholding wages from you.

What Does North Carolina Law Say About Short Rest Breaks?

Most employers offer short breaks so staff members can use the restroom, refill a water bottle or grab a soda, have a quick snack, or make a phone call. These breaks are typically less than 20 minutes, and often not more than five. Under federal law, your employer should pay you for these short breaks.

It is important to follow your employer’s rules about these quick breaks, however. If your employer puts the length of a break period in the employment handbook or other documents, you must not extend your break beyond this time without permission. You could face disciplinary action if this occurs.

How Is a Meal Break Different Under North Carolina Employment Law?

Meal breaks last more than 20 minutes, and usually at least a half hour. They provide an opportunity to rest, and enough time to eat a full meal. These breaks are typically unpaid, and because of that your supervisor must completely relieve you of all your duties. You clock out, and your supervisor cannot ask you to complete any tasks until you clock back in. If he does, he needs to compensate you for your time.

For example, imagine you work at a factory and operate a large machine that weaves carpets. Your supervisor allows you a 30-minute lunch break, but requires you to stay at your machine to ensure everything runs smoothly while you eat. If your employer does not pay you for this time, you need to call us. We can help you recover the unpaid wages you deserve.

Can My Supervisor Prevent Me from Leaving the Premises During an Unpaid Lunch Break?

North Carolina laws allow your employer to require you to remain on the premises during your unpaid meal break. Your supervisor must, however completely relieve you of all work-related duties. If he fails to free you from any type of work during this break, he is legally obligated to pay you for your time.

This often becomes a problem when employers require staff to stay on the premises during a meal. It is hard to remain in your work area and not be “on-call” or have job-related obligations interrupt your break. Even sitting at your desk and reading emails requires compensation. Many employers fall into the habit of asking employees to watch monitors, answer phones, or complete other tasks while eating off-the-clock. This is illegal. You must receive compensation for this work.

What Do I Need to Do If I Have Unpaid Meal and Break Time Wages?

Forcing employees to work in any capacity during an unpaid meal or rest period is one of the most common ways wage theft occurs. Asking you to do any job-related activity, even when it is a passive task, during an unpaid break is asking you to work off the clock. Any work you perform requires compensation.

If you believe you deserve back pay for meal and break time violations, you need a knowledgeable North Carolina employment attorney on your side. These laws are complex, and you do not want to face your employer’s legal team on your own.

When employees call us, and say they believe they have unpaid break periods, we can investigate the situation and calculate how serious the wage theft problem may be. We can demand the back pay using a demand letter, or take your employer to court to recover the unpaid wages. We have the resources and knowledge necessary to take on any company, large or small. We are not afraid to litigate any case, if that is what it takes to get you the unpaid wages your employer owes you.

Phil Gibbons, Charlotte, NC, Employee Rights Lawyer, Can Help You Recover Unpaid Meal and Break Time Wages

Phil Gibbons at Gibbons Leis, PLLC works with wage theft victims to ensure they get the compensation they earned. We can help you recover unpaid wages if your employer failed to follow federal or state laws regarding meal and rest breaks. Call us at 704-612-0038 for a complimentary consultation.