Recently, I have been looking into lunch and break laws at the state level. South Carolina is one of many states that doesn’t have a specific law about this issue.
While there isn’t a state law about lunches and breaks, there are applicable federal laws for South Carolina residents. Many people believe that they are entitled to a meal or break under federal law, but this is not the case. The federal law does offer guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times if an employer chooses to offer breaks during the day.
Short rest breaks, which usually 20 minutes or less, must be paid as work time. Genuine “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be counted or paid as work time. Employees must also be completely relieved of their duties during this meal break for it to qualify as unpaid. If the employee is still required to do any work duties, it must instead be a paid break.
Federal law also contains other regulations related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. With 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 deducted from his or her pay. However, this can only be done if a sleeping area is provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.
Another issue I find comes up in the area of work hours is the issue of travel time. The general rule is that time spent in the normal day’s travel to and from work is not considered paid working time. However, if an employee is traveling in the course of a day’s work, it must be counted as paid work hours.
There are some situations where waiting is counted as work time and other situations where it is not. If an employee is allowed to do something of his or her choosing 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 counted as work time. On the other hand, if an employee is waiting to be called upon from home or elsewhere, 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.
A great deal of helpful information on the laws related to lunches, breaks and other pertinent labor issues can be found on the South Carolina Complete Labor Law Poster.