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Meal Break in Illinois

At my company, we require employees to take a one-hour unpaid meal break. We have quite a few employees who want to leave an hour early so they insist on skipping their lunch hour to leave an hour early. I’ve been recently promoted to HR manager and I know the IL law says we are required to provide at least 20 min lunch period — essentially, we are breaking the law by allowing staff to “eat at their desk” or skip lunch and leave an hour early. I want to put an email out to the staff that this this is not permissible and they MUST take their hour lunch (away from their desk) and cannot leave an hour early every day. I want to make sure I’m correct before doing so.

As you know, Illinois law requires an employee who is to work 7 1/2 continuous hours or more a meal period of at least 20 minutes. The meal period must be given to an employee no later than 5 hours after beginning work.

Providing additional meal period time, like you do, is at the employer’s discretion.

So, yes, it’s absolutely permissible for you to require employees to take their full 1-hour meal period. But, be careful of the wording in your email. Don’t state that it’s the law for employees to take a full hour meal period, because it’s not. You don’t have to be overly detailed either. Something simple like “The past practice of employees skipping their lunch breaks in order to leave an hour early is no longer permitted. It’s important for every employee to take time out of his/her day to get away from work to eat and relax. Thus, effective immediately all employees are required to take their full 1-hour meal period.”


November 10th, 2018, 10:19 PM |  Posted in: Labor Laws |
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Employee Return to Work Letter

I have an employee who has been working 2 to 3 days per week due to an non-job-related injury. I need to tell her the following in a letter: She is to return to work by November 12, 2018. If she does not return on or before that date, we can no longer hold her position. If she does return, we must have the medical accommodations paperwork on the day she returns to work in order to grant any accommodations to her. How do I write this?

Before writing the letter, it’s important to consider any applicable federal or state leave or discrimination laws, company policies, and past practice.

Is the employee covered and entitled to leave under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or similar state leave law? Does her condition entitle her to accommodations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or similar state disability law? Is she entitled to further time off under any company policies? What, if anything, has been promised to the employee, either in writing or implied?

Make absolutely certain that you’ve covered your legal basis prior to sending the warning letter.

Since you mention accommodations, it’s worth stating that the ADA doesn’t require employees to submit medical documentation verifying the need for accommodations. But, employers are permitted to request such documentation when the employee’s impairment and need for accommodation are not known or obvious. So, consider if your requirement for her to provide medical documentation is absolutely necessary.

Also, under the ADA, there is no required time frame for employees to submit medical documentation requested by their employers. Thus, any deadline given to the employee must be reasonable, say two weeks, and there must be active communication with the employee reminding them of the deadline. Keep this in mind prior to sending your letter.

Let’s assume every legal basis has been covered. The employee has been informed of her responsibilities and this is her last reminder. In this case, the terminology you used is acceptable. Add any prior communications regarding her leave agreement or medical documentation. Assuming her impairment or accommodations are unknown, state your inability to provide appropriate accommodations without the proper documentation.


November 10th, 2018, 10:06 PM |  Posted in: Attendance Management, Benefits, Labor Laws |
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Travel Pay

What are the rules with a small company send it employee’s to work on a job in another state and they lodge over nite. do the receive Per Diem for meals and Incidentals?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes compensation requirements for employees. The FLSA applies to employers whose annual sales total $500,000 or more, or who are engaged in interstate commerce. This covers just about every employer, even small businesses.

Under the FLSA, when an employee is required to travel on an overnight business trip, any hours spent traveling must be counted as hours worked only if it occurs during the employee’s normal work hours. For example, if the employee normally works 9AM-5PM, then the employer is required to pay him only for the time traveled during those hours. Any time spent traveling before or after 9AM-5PM wouldn’t be required to be included in the employee’s hours worked unless the employee actually performs work duties while traveling.

Further, these rules apply during an employee’s travel on non-workdays. For example, if an employee typically works Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM and is traveling on Sunday, then the employer is required to count as hours worked only the time spent traveling between 9AM and 5PM. As previously mentioned, if the employee performs any work duties, regardless of the time of day, such time is counted as hours worked.

There is no federal law that requires employers to reimburse employees for travel related expenses like meals or accommodations. Some states have adopted such regulations. So, it’s important to be aware of any applicable laws in your state. Still, many employers offer an allowance to cover meals and other incidentals while an employee travels for business. It’s best practice for employers to clearly state what, if any, allowance is provided for business trips.

November 10th, 2018, 9:36 PM |  Posted in: Compensation |
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FMLA Covered Employer

Does the 50-employee rule before employees are covered by FMLA leave apply to all public employers too?

The FMLA only applies to employers that meet certain criteria. A covered employer is a:

  • Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
  • Public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

So, no, the 50 employee rule doesn’t apply to public employers.

November 10th, 2018, 9:12 PM |  Posted in: Labor Laws |
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Exempt Personal Leave Use

What would the legal impact be, if any, in the following situation: We have many exempt employees. All complete time sheets each week (we bill hours to projects). When some exempt employees work less than 8.0 hours per day, they fill in their day with personal leave hours. However, other exempt employees who work less than 8.0 hours per day don’t fill in the day with personal leave. In either situation, all employees are paid their regular salary (equivalent to 80 hrs ). Could this be considered discrimination? Why are some employees having to use their personal hours when others are not? Many times both scenarios are approved in the same department by the same supervisor. This is just one example of time sheet inconsistencies, and I don’t believe any supervisor is trying to favor one employee over the next, I’m just curious of the legal ramifications. Thank you ~

Any time policies aren’t uniformly applied to all employees in similar positions there is a risk of discrimination, whether intentional or not. In your case, there is a group of employees often in the same department with the same supervisor who are treated differently in regards to the use of personal leave time. What is the valid business-related reason for doing so? Is there one? If not, the risk of discrimination increases.


Let’s say the group of employees are in the same department. Some of the employees are working on a special assignment that requires them to work at home during non-work hours. These same employees often don’t put in a full 8-hour workday. In this case, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t be forced to use their personal leave time to make a full 8-hour day. This is a legitimate business-related reason.


Conversely, let’s say the group of employees are in the same department and all perform similar jobs that require a strict 8-hour workday in the office. Though the policy requires employees to use their personal leave time to make the 8-hours, the department manager is lax in enforcing it. Maybe he’s lazy or maybe he just doesn’t realize when people are leaving early so he doesn’t force them to use the time. In this case, the risk of discrimination is higher especially if the group that tends to be forced to use their leave time is a protected class under federal or state law. Remember, discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be illegal.


It’s advisable to look further into the situation. Find out why some exempt employees are forced to use their personal time while others aren’t. You may find there is actually a legitimate reason. If not, then it’s best to clearly explain to all managers the importance of enforcing policies uniformly.

November 10th, 2018, 8:54 PM |  Posted in: Benefits |
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