What the small business owner needs to know about Rest Breaks and Meal Periods

Owning a small business with employees is exciting, but also overwhelming. Having employees means keeping track of, and following, specific state regulations. As a small business owner, it’s likely that you don’t have dedicated HR staff; that means being aware of a lot of aspects of employment law that you aren’t an expert in.

One part of these regulations is related to providing employees rest breaks and meal periods during their shifts. It’s important to be sure you are in compliance with these requirements for several reasons, as follows:

  • To avoid possible investigations, fines, or worse
  • To allow employees time to take care of their needs during the scheduled rest/meal periods
  • To foster an environment where employees feel valued, which boosts moral

In Washington state, the Department of Labor & Industries regulates these requirements. Here are the key points of the requirements:

Rest Breaks:

  • Employees must be allowed a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked
  • The rest break must be allowed no later than the end of the third hour of the shift

Meal Periods:

  • If more than 5 hours are worked in a shift, employees must be allowed a 30-minute meal period between the 2nd-5th hours of the shift
  • Employees may give up their meal period, if the employer agrees. L&I encourages business owners get a written statement from employees who want to give up their meal periods.

In addition to meeting the requirements of the law, you want to provide your employees with a great place to work, as this leads to more productivity and general camaraderie on your team. Meeting (and sometimes exceeding) requirements shows your employees that you are invested in them, and you are not trying to ‘nickel-and-dime’ them to get the highest possible daily work yield. You care about your team – and a big part of that is being up-to-speed on regulations such as these.

If you have any questions about this or other L&I regulations, please contact our team at terra@joyaccounting.com.

For more information on rest & meal requirements in Washington state, go to: https://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/Wages/HoursBreaks/Breaks/default.asp

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