Recently, I’ve been researching state laws on the topic of lunches, breaks and other work hour issues. I have learned that Virginia is one of many states that only have a lunch and break law for minors. Virginia law requires that all employees under 16 years of age must be given an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes if they have worked five hours or more continuously.
Although Virginia does not have a lunch and break law for those persons 16 and over, there are several federal rules that apply to Virginia employers and employees. While federal law does not require specific breaks or meal periods, it does contain instructions as to whether or not these should be paid breaks if an employer offers them.
Short rest breaks are most often 20 minutes or less, and should be counted as paid working time. True “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be compensated as work time if an employee is completely relieved of his or her duties. If the employee is still required to do some of his or her duties, it must be a paid meal period.
I find that many people are also interested in the federal laws related to 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 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 considered paid working 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 sleeping time, federal law mandates that 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. The situation is different for an employee on duty more than 24 hours. For these employees, a sleeping period of no more than eight hours may be deducted from their work hours. However, this can only be done sleeping quarters are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employees.
A final issue I’ll cover in this blog entry is travel time. In general, the 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 his or her work, it must be paid as work time.
Further information on laws related to lunches, breaks and other pertinent labor issues can be found on the Virginia Complete Labor Law Poster.