Meal and Rest Breaks Under Louisiana Law

While the vast majority of employers allow workers to take a lunch break or other rest break, some do not.  Is that against the law?  Some states, such as California and New York, require that employees take meal breaks and rest breaks during the workday. However, neither federal nor Louisiana law requires Louisiana employers to offer meal or rest breaks to workers over the age of 18. This article discusses the laws regarding meal and rest breaks in Louisiana.

Minors Must Take Meal Breaks

While Louisiana does not have a meal break law for adult employees, it does mandate meal breaks for all employees under the age of 18. Any minor employee who works a shift of five hours or more must take at least a 30 minute meal break. If the employee works a ten hour shift, he must receive a second 30 minute meal break. These meal breaks may be paid or unpaid, at the employer’s discretion.  Employers must ensure that these breaks are taken regularly and consistently, as the Louisiana Workforce Commission is very serious about enforcing labor laws regarding minors.

Bona Fide Meal Periods

When it comes to adult employees, whether to offer a meal break, and when, is wholly left to the employer.  The break may be paid or unpaid, but only bona fide meal periods may be unpaid. A bona fide meal period must be at least 20 minutes long, without interruption, and no work may be performed during this time. The employee must be completely relieved of duty for the break to qualify as unpaid. A receptionist who is required to eat at her desk while occasionally answering e-mails or phone calls is not on a bona fide meal period, so that time should be paid. Even if no one calls during the lunch period, the fact that she was required to stay at her desk is enough to make the time payable. An employer can require the employee to stay on the premises during lunch break, but cannot require her to stay at her desk or work station.

Any break lasting less than 20 minutes is, by definition, work time. The law does not consider these short breaks to be bona fide meal periods. Employees therefore must be paid through any break of less than 20 minutes.

Automatic Meal Deductions

Many workplaces have implemented an automatic meal deduction into their timekeeping system. This means that the employee punches in when arriving and punches out at the end of the day, but does not punch in or out for lunch. Instead, the timecard machine automatically assumes that a break was taken and deducts a half-hour or an hour from every employee’s time cards. Many employers have faced lawsuits, and been required to pay a significant amount of money, as a result of these systems.

An employer can deduct a half-hour for lunch only if the employee actually takes the lunch. The sad reality is that many employers enact these automatic deduction systems treat the automatic lunch deduction as a “free” half-hour of work, and require their employees to work through the break while still deducting the time. This is clearly against the law.

Any employer who wishes to use an automatic meal deduction system should, at the very least, have a clear process which allows employees to mark any days where they work through lunch and pays them for that time. Employers should also make clear that employees are encouraged to take lunches, and should ensure that supervisors are not pressuring people to skip their breaks. Even so, the best practice is to avoid the automatic meal deduction system entirely and require employees to punch in and out when taking lunch.  This provides a clear and objective record of each employee’s working time.

If you have worked through meal and rest breaks without being paid, or would like me to review your company’s policies and practices regarding meal and rest breaks, call today at (504) 267-0777 or email me here.