Do Breaks Count Towards Unpaid Overtime?

When are breaks counted as unpaid overtime under Texas law?

Many employees in Texas ask whether their breaks and meal period should be counted as work time for the purposes of determining unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA. Neither federal nor Texas law requires that an employer give its employees break time. However, if the employer elects to give its employees short breaks (typically those between 5-20 minutes), these breaks count as hours worked, and should be used to calculate the employee’s unpaid overtime under the FLSA. Longer break periods or meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally will not count as work time, and an employer does not have to pay for them. But there is a significant caveat to this rule, however. For the longer break or meal period not to count as work time, the employees must be completely relieved from duty. The key issue is whether the longer break period is spent predominantly for the company’s benefit or for the employee’s benefit.

An overtime case decided by the Fifth Circuit highlights this issue. In Bernard v. IBP, Inc. of Nebraska, 154 F.3d 259 (5th Cir. 1998), a number of workers sued their employer, a food processing and packaging company in Amarillo, Texas, for unpaid overtime under the FLSA. One of the key issues on appeal was whether the workers’ meal breaks should have been used to calculate unpaid overtime. The plaintiffs testified at trial that they were required to stay on the premises, they were often interrupted during their meal breaks to fix problems, and their supervisors used the meal break as a time to meet with their employees to discuss the work-related issues. The appellate court concluded that this evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict that the meal periods were predominantly for the benefit of the employer and, therefore, were compensable for the purposes of unpaid overtime.

About the Author: I represent individuals in a variety of matters, including employment claims for lost wages. While my office is located in Fort Worth, I am admitted to practice in every state and federal court in Texas, and I am able handle unpaid overtime cases in Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton, Houston, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, and across Texas. If you believe you may be owed unpaid overtime, call me at 817.908.9861 or fill out my contact form for a free evaluation.