Today, you start your new internship. You’re excited, you’re tired. You can’t imagine how you’re going to remember the names of everyone in the office… It’s your typical first day.
So… what exactly are you allowed to do? Do you take a lunch break with everyone else? Or does your status as a “part-time employee” mean you eat at your desk? It seems like such an awkward question to ask; you don’t want to be the “newbie” of the office who doesn’t know the procedures. What are the policies for break times, anyway?
Labor Laws and Break Times
There are no federal labor or employment laws that require employers to allow employees to take breaks or work meals. Fewer than half of the states have set state-level laws that specifically address work breaks or meals. If your state isn’t one of these, it may have regulations or guidelines that further address the issue, so you can contact the appropriate state labor department if you really want to know.
The Employer’s Decision
Ultimately, the employer gets to decide how many breaks employees get per shift, or how long those breaks may be, with the guidance of the state department. Employers who do offer breaks less than 20 minutes must pay the employee – but that doesn’t require the employer to offer that option.
Employers can set an employee break policy in their employee handbook or they can provide breaks on an informal basis with no predefined rest periods.
The typical “rest break” can last from 5-20 minutes while the typically unpaid “meal break” will last 30-60 minutes. Non-exempt employees (like most interns) usually have to keep track of their lunch times. Exempt employees (like the rest of the office) can take their lunch break when they find convenient time to do so.
It’s important to remember that in most situations, if the employee is taking an unpaid lunch, they cannot work for that entire period. In other words, the unpaid break period must be bona fide to be legal.
Know Your Rights
Back to your first day. If your HR rep, boss, or mentor hasn’t yet told you about your company’s break policies, take a deep breath. Look through the employee handbook or corporate website for guidance. Ask your desk-mate what she usually does for lunch. Or, if you’re lucky enough to work at a company like GovDocs, your manager may actually treat you to lunch on that first day to show you the standards.