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Can we require employees to take their lunch breaks? We have quite a few employees that refuse to take their breaks at all. If we’re allowed to force the breaks but an employee doesn’t take theirs can we still deduct the time from their pay?

There is no federal law that requires employees to take meal periods or rest breaks. Some states have adopted such laws; so, it’s important to be aware of any applicable laws in your state.

Employers may require employees to take meal periods and/or rest breaks as a matter of company policy. Compensation requirements for such time are set forth under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Under the FLSA, short breaks lasting less than twenty minutes in duration must be compensated.

Meal periods typically lasting thirty minutes or more serve a different purpose than short breaks and are not time required to be compensated. Employees must be relieved of all work responsibilities during meal periods. If an employee does any work during his meal period the time must be compensated and counted towards the total number of hours worked in the workweek.

If an employee chooses not to take their lunch break against company policy, since the time was actually worked it must be paid. However, the employee can be disciplined in accordance with company disciplinary procedures for violating company policy.

April 24th, 2017, 7:11 PM |  Posted in: Benefits, Compensation |
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Bad Tasting Water

Our employees are complaining about the taste of the water from the water fountain. Do we have to provide them bottled water?

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensures safe and healthful working conditions in the workplace through training and regulations.

OSHA requires potable water to be provided in all places of employment in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee. Potable water means water that is safe from toxins and meets the standard for drinking purposes set forth by state and/or municipality regulations.

There is no requirement for water to be bottled or even from a water fountain. Tap water from a sink, as long as it meets the standards for drinking, meets OSHA’s requirement.

Assuming the water meets the standards for drinking water, you’re not required to provide alternate water. However, it’s still best to consider the needs of your employees. Is the water fountain the only source of drinking water? Are there a significant number of employees complaining about the taste? Do you dislike the taste? If the answers are yes then consider what you can do to resolve the issue.


April 24th, 2017, 7:05 PM |  Posted in: Workplace Health & Safety |
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During training on the ADA, an employee’s medical information was shared by their supervisor to everyone in the training. The supervisor felt this individual was abusing their FMLA time. The supervisor was made aware of the medical condition by the employee; however, it was not shared by the employee to the other individuals in the training. The employee was not mentioned by name, the details of the employee’s title and specifics of their FMLA request were enough that others in the training could figure out who was being discussed and now know what medical condition this individual has. 1) Is this a HIPAA violation? 2) Is this an ADA violation? and 3) Is everyone in the training liable for not stopping the discussion or just the supervisor that shared the medical information, the ADA information and the FMLA information? Thanks

HIPAA’s privacy regulations cover protected individually identifiable health information employers obtain about employees through a group health plan. The regulations don’t extend to employer-related medical information such as that acquired as part of workers’ comp claims, FMLA leaves, ADA accommodations, or sick leave.

So, if the employer is a covered entity (doctors, clinics, company health plans and government programs that pay for healthcare) then a HIPAA violation may have occurred. It really depends on the details the supervisor provided during the training. Even if the employer is not subject to HIPAA, a supervisor disclosing so much personal information about an individual’s situation that others can identify the individual is inappropriate.

Under the ADA and FMLA, any information relating to accommodations or leaves may only be disclosed to supervisors who need to know the employee’s restrictions and accommodations. Disclosing such records to unauthorized persons is a violation under both laws. Whether a true violation occurred in your situation again really depends on the details of the information provided.

To answer your last question: In some cases, an individual can be held personally liable for a HIPAA or FMLA violation, not usually for ADA violations. If violations truly occurred, the supervisor, as an agent of the employer, would be at fault not the trainees.

It sounds like the supervisor was trying to provide a real example of a FMLA violation that trainees may encounter. Whether such an example was even necessary depends on the nature of the training. Still, the supervisor may have provided a few too many details. He/She should be counseled on the requirements of privacy under applicable federal laws and company policy, and be encouraged to use fictitious examples in future trainings.


April 20th, 2017, 8:41 PM |  Posted in: Labor Laws |
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Break Room and Security

We have contracted Security officers on our property 24/7. are we required to provide a “break room” or at minimum a microwave to be made available to the officers during the overnight shift? We are in California. Thanks.

Under California’s labor laws, in all places where employees are required to eat on the premises, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated. Further, with limited exceptions, if a meal period occurs on a shift beginning or ending at or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., facilities must be available for securing hot food and drink or for heating food or drink, and a suitable sheltered place must be provided in which to consume such food or drink.

So, assuming the Security Officers are not permitted to leave their posts for their meal periods and since employees work night shifts, yes, you must provide them with a sheltered place to eat with means to secure and heat their food and drinks.


April 20th, 2017, 7:39 PM |  Posted in: Workplace Management |
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Doctor’s Release to Work

I received a release to return to work from one of the employees but the release is on a blank paper with no letterhead. I really feel like it’s not from the doctor. What should I do?

Just about every legitimate practitioner’s office will use their own letterhead. It’s best to require the employee to obtain a new note on company letterhead with the name, address, and phone number of the doctor/practice. This should be a standard rule applied to all employees.


April 20th, 2017, 7:21 PM |  Posted in: Attendance Management |
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