Everyone likes work breaks. You like them because they give you, well, a break from your job — they’re a chance to get coffee, update your Facebook status, pay a bill, watch the latest Funny or Die video or smoke a cigarette. Employers like them because downtime has been shown to help productivity, relieve stress and even build camaraderie among employees.
But breaks can be also a point of contention around some workplaces. While you barely can pull yourself away from your desk most days to heat up your Lean Cuisine, your co-worker seems to be constantly ducking out for coffee, stamps or a quick smoke.
What’s fair and what’s not? Here’s what the Labor Law Center’s Human Resource blog says:
The best practice in HR is to give employees an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes or more, per 8 hour shift. Most employers give an additional meal break if the employee has to work 12 hours or more.
In addition, the best practice in most industries is to give workers a 10 to 15 minute break at approximately the mid-point of each 4-hour work segment. Usually this translates into a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon break. Under the federal FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act, rest breaks of less than 20 minutes must be paid. (Meal breaks that are longer than 20 minutes may be unpaid if the employee is relieved of all duties during this period.)
Which brings us to the subject of smokers and their break times.
It’s one thing if you are using break time as stated above, but what if you are taking four breaks a day or one break an hour? I’m not saying all smokers do that, but there are many non-smokers who complain about this. What are they supposed to do if they don’t relax with a nicotine fix? Aren’t they entitled to the same break time as smokers?
Hard-hitting reporter Pat Tomasulo, sports anchor for WGN TV’s morning news in Chicago, recently took a look at this very topic. Watch here as he takes his own version of “smoke breaks” — he might be on to something.
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