Meal and rest breaks are one of the most common topics for which employees have questions. After all, the law on the subject varies greatly from state to state, plus federal laws can impact what employers are required to give. So where does North Carolina fit into the mix?
State laws require very little
Under North Carolina law, employers are not required to give either rest breaks or meal breaks. There are some exceptions to this, such as for those who are 16 years of age or younger – after 5 hours of work, they must be given at least a 30-minute break.
However, although North Carolina doesn’t mandate rest breaks or meal breaks, most companies give them voluntarily. Most of the time, their meal and break policies will be contained in the company’s employee handbook. And once those policies have been put in place, they must be followed.
How employees get short-changed
Companies run into problems when they choose to offer meal and rest breaks but then fail to implement the policies properly. Suppose a company’s policy is to give employees a meal break – typically, the break will last at least 30 minutes. The company will consider this unpaid time.
However, when the company grants this free time, the employee must be completely relieved of their duties. This means the employee must be free from all work, including waiting on customers, answering phone calls, and everything else associated with their job. This is where employers often get themselves in trouble; by failing to completely relieve the employee of their duties and also by failing to pay the employee for that time. North Carolina doesn’t require the employer to give a meal break but, when the company does, they must follow wage and hour laws and compensate the employee appropriately.