I find that employers and employees alike are often interested to know what laws apply to the lunches and breaks that workers may take. In Iowa, the state law only regulates the meal breaks for employees under the age of 16. State law mandates that employees ages 14 and 15 be given a 30 minute meal break if they have worked five hours or more. This may be an unpaid break.
While Iowa law does not have any lunch and break provisions for workers 16 and over, residents of Iowa are covered by applicable federal rules in this area. You might be interested to know that federal law does not mandate specific breaks or meal periods, but it does give guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times. Short breaks, those that are usually 20 minutes or less, should be counted as hours worked. True “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be compensated as work time. For this to be the case, however, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties during the meal break. If the employee is still required to do any duties (even minor duties such as answering a phone), it can’t be considered a meal or lunch period and must be paid.
Federal law also contains regulations related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. Whether or not waiting time needs to be considered paid work hours depends on the situation. If an employee is allowed to read a magazine or do something else of his or her desire while waiting for another task to be finished or while waiting at the workplace for his or her services to be called upon, it is generally considered work time. On the other hand, if an employee is waiting to be called upon, but has great freedom to do what he or she wishes while on call (and has plenty of time to respond to the call), it is not generally considered paid work time.
When it comes to travel time, the general rule of thumb is that time spent in the normal day’s commute to and from work is not considered paid working time. However, if an employee is traveling in the course of a days work, it must be considered paid work time.
Another issue I find sometimes comes up is the issue of sleeping time. An Employee required to be on duty less than 24 hours is considered to be “working” even if he or she is permitted to sleep during some of those hours when not busy. If an employee is on duty more than 24 hours, a sleeping period of no more than eight hours may be subtracted from work hours. However, this can only be done if sleeping facilities are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.
A thorough presentation of state and federal laws relating to lunch and break law may be found on the Iowa Complete Labor Law Poster. This poster also features information on many other state and federal labor law requirements.