Coffee and lunch breaks are not mandated by federal law. However, under federal law, when employers do provide breaks (often ranging between 5 and 20 minutes), those breaks are included as hours worked and factored into the calculation of overtime.
As a courtesy to their staff, many businesses offer lunch and rest periods, sometimes with monetary compensation. However, this standard procedure is not always necessary: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs minimum wage and overtime for workers in the United States, does not mandate that businesses provide their employees with rest or lunch periods.
This issue was confirmed in a recent online post by someone who worked at a busy liquor store in which one of the employer's rules was that employees were not allowed to take breaks.
The author claims that in her early twenties she worked at a busy liquor store. The owner of the store enforced his authority with a firm hand. Anyone who dared question him or disobey his strict regulations was swiftly terminated. Workers were not permitted to take breaks, per his strict regulations. There was no time for them to stop and take a breather. He had all new hires sign an agreement before they could begin their first shift to assure compliance.
In signing this form, the worker indicated that he or she would forego all scheduled breaks during the course of the shift. If any of them broke this policy, he would fire them. Before they could punch in at the clock, he escorted anyone who refused to sign the document out the door.
One section of the agreement went as follows:
"I will not take coffee breaks, smoke breaks, lunch breaks, or breaks of any kind. I prefer to eat and drink at my station instead." According to author
The reality is that workers will get thirsty and hungry during their shifts unless they bring and keep enough food and drink to last the duration of their shift at their desk. People couldn't leave their posts for anything, not even water.
"This job was one of the most soul-sucking experiences of my life. The conditions were inhumane, and the stress of working long hours without any breaks took a toll on my mental and physical health. After six months, I finally quit. To this day, I can't stand the sight of liquor stores."
The author claims that she frequently encountered workers who were weary and dehydrated as a result of working without breaks for long periods of time. In the summertime, some people even passed out from the heat. They had to plan ahead and use the restroom before or after work if they had a need. Many of them had to hold their urine for long periods of time. That's because the owner didn't want to risk financial losses due to an employee's absence. Employees were expected to use the restrooms only before or after work. On the other hand, this policy did cause some issues. To begin, a high turnover rate was attributed to the infrequency of bathroom breaks. Those that stayed often fell ill from working so hard and never having a chance to rest or use the restroom.
To her regret, her former employer is still in operation. However, she is unaware of whether or not he has modified the ways in which he conducts business since that time. She ends her post by saying:
"I hope that no one has to experience what I did at that liquor store. No one should have to work in such dehumanizing conditions. Unfortunately, I know that there are many other workers out there who are in similar situations.
If you are one of them, my heart goes out to you. I hope that you can find the strength to fight for your rights and improve your working conditions. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."
Waiving your right to meal and rest periods is not the best idea for employees who are required to work for long periods of time. If you’re an employee, you should know your rights in order to make sure you’re protected. If you’re an employer, you should know that you’re at risk of lawsuits in the event of a worker’s injury, which can cost your business a lot of money.
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