Importance of following meal and rest break policies

One of the issues dental team members can face is finding the right time to take a meal or rest break. The busy day, especially for smaller practices with a small staff, sometimes doesn't leave a lot of time to easily take a break.

CDA Practice Support reminds dentists that they must comply with California's labor laws, however, and practice owners must make sure that an employee who works more than five hours per day is granted at least one 10-minute rest break and a meal period of not less than 30 minutes. Two 10-minute rest breaks and a 30-minute meal break are required for a typical eight-hour day.

A general principle to follow, as outlined in CDA Practice Support's Sample Meal and Rest Break Policy, is that depending on the daily schedule, lunch may vary from 30 minutes to one hour. It must be taken no more than 4 hours and 59 minutes from the beginning of the employee's workday. Lunchtime is unpaid and, therefore, all employees are required to clock out during this period. Your office policies should include language stating that failure to clock out can be grounds for disciplinary action.

"Make sure you are following the laws of the state so your employees are treated properly and there are no misunderstandings that could lead to court challenges down the road," said CDA Practice Analyst Michelle Corbo. "It's up to the employer to keep accurate records and show that every effort was made to convey policies to employees and provide timely breaks."

According to the state, "if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent and written agreement of both the employer and employee. A second meal period of not less than thirty minutes is required if an employee works more than ten hours per day, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee only if the first meal period was not waived."

The state goes further by stating that unless the employee is relieved of all duty during his or her 30-minute meal period, the meal period shall be considered an "on duty" meal period that is counted as hours worked. Those hours must be compensated at the employee's regular rate of pay. An "on duty" meal period is allowed only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the employer and employee an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to, according to the state.

The written agreement must state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time. If the employer requires the employee to remain at the worksite or facility during the meal period, the meal period must be paid.

Should an employee not have an opportunity to step away from work for each required rest or meal break, the penalty is an extra hour of pay for that day for each incident — paid the next regularly scheduled pay date. Should that extra hour take the employee over eight hours in a workday, overtime laws apply as well.

CDA Practice Support recommends dentists review staff meal and rest break timing in their daily morning huddles.

"This review ensures your staff is aware of any coverage needed throughout your schedule. Maintaining communication leads to a smoother day," Corbo said.

For more information on meal and rest breaks, review CDA Practice Support's Sample Meal and Rest Break Policy on cda.org/practicesupport.

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