Do You Really Want to Auto-Deduct That Meal Break?

September 27, 2018 |

I’ll be blunt here.  Auto-deducting meal breaks is a bad idea.  I know employees never remember to clock in and out after lunch, and they complain about it, and administratively it is a giant headache, and I am sympathetic.  But, if you as the employer are automatically deducting meal breaks regardless of whether the employee actually took the break, you are running the risk of violating the FLSA.  Don’t believe me? Ask the 11th Circuit.  The Court found that a group of nursing home workers could go forward with a claim that the nursing home’s policy of automatically deducting 30-minute from their pay, whether or not they took the meal break could be a violation of the FLSA.  See (Cooley v. HMR Alabama, Inc., No. 18-10657, (11th Cir., Sept. 6, 2018).

To be clear, the FLSA does not prohibit employers from auto-deducting meal breaks.  However, these policies continue to land employers in hot water.  The reason?  If the employer is auto-deducting these meal periods, and not keeping any other record, in the event of an audit or lawsuit, the employer will have no defense if an employee claims he or she worked through the lunch period.  If you are bound and determined to continue the practice, employees should be signing off on each meal break deduction confirming that the meal period was actually taken.  Anything less will leave your organization unnecessarily vulnerable.

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