For business owners and employees alike, one of the most frequently debated aspects of the average workday involves the negotiation and scheduling of employee meal breaks and brief resting periods. Many workers cherish their break time, while others may be indifferent — and it can create complications for employers when attempting to schedule their staff members for the day. Some employers take a very casual approach to break time, whereas others prefer not to take any chances and have everything scheduled down to the minute.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the U.S. Virgin Islands Labor Relations Act outlines the specifics of the law as it concerns both mandatory rest periods and meal breaks. For every four hours of continuous work, an employee is entitled to a paid break of at least 10 minutes. This break may not take place at the beginning or end of a shift, and it cannot be tacked onto a meal break.
Failure to provide a short break entitles an employee to make up his or her break time either on the same workday or the same pay period. Otherwise, for every break period not provided, the employer must pay the worker for a half-hour’s work at the regular pay rate.
Requirements and exceptions
It is important to note that 10-minute breaks do not have to be provided under the following conditions, provided they exist simultaneously:
- The employee is at least 18 years old
- The employee is working alone in a retail or service business
- The employee is allowed to briefly leave his or her post to use the restroom
Meanwhile, a 30-minute meal break is required for any employee working seven or more continuous hours. This break may take the form of uninterrupted mealtime or an “on-duty” meal, during which time the employee continues to work in the event that the job demands it. The burden is on the employer to prove that such circumstances exist.
There are some exceptions to the law. For one, employees may forego any break if they so choose. However, the burden of proof is on the employer if there is a dispute, so business owners need to be able to verify that an agreement with the employee was in place.
There are also some situations in which employers may be exempt from providing mandatory breaks. For example, if providing breaks would negatively affect the business while also not harming employees, an employer may apply to the Commissioner of Labor for an exemption. The Commissioner of Labor, meanwhile, may exempt certain categories of employers from having to allow breaks.
Although the law is fairly straightforward, it’s still a good idea for employers to fully understand how it applies to their businesses. Employers with questions or concerns related to mandatory employee meal breaks and rest periods should seek the counsel of an experienced labor law attorney to avoid any confusion or compliance issues.
BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established employment law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.