HR Hotline: How Do We Manage Unauthorized Breaks?

HR & Safety

Q: We’re having an issue with employees taking a lot of unauthorized breaks, whether to make a phone call, use the bathroom, get a drink, or just to socialize.

Do we have to allow these breaks, and must they be paid? And now that the weather is getting warmer, do the rules change for either indoor or outdoor workers?

HR Hotline badge

A: It’s important to distinguish between (1) meal periods; (2) short rest breaks; and (3) heat-related safety breaks.

Connecticut law does not mandate that employers provide any breaks other than a 30-minute “meal period” in certain circumstances.

The four primary rules for meal periods are as follows:

  1. Employees scheduled to work for 7 ½ or more consecutive hours must be given a 30-minute unpaid break for a meal.
  2. Employees must be completely relieved of all duties during the break.
  3. The employer must provide the meal break at some point after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours, though the employer and employee may enter into a written agreement that provides for a different schedule, including a collective bargaining agreement.
  4. Where an employer provides a paid break of 30 minutes or more within each 7 ½ hour work period, the scheduling requirements do not apply. 


Certain employers are exempt from these rules, such as when requiring compliance would impact public safety, where the duties of a position can only be performed by one worker, where the employer employs fewer than five workers on a shift, or where the continuous nature of company operations requires that employees be available to respond to urgent conditions at all times.

Neither Connecticut nor federal law requires that employers provide rest breaks. However, as a practical matter, employees will obviously need to use the restroom, get a drink, and the like.

Where an employer authorizes these types of short breaks (typically 20 minutes or less), employees must be paid, as the U.S. Department of Labor considers such breaks to be part of an employee’s compensable work hours. 

Where an employer authorizes these types of short breaks, employees must be paid.

An employer may refuse to pay for short breaks only where it has expressly and unambiguously communicated to its workforce that breaks may only last for a specific length of time, at certain times of day, and that unauthorized extensions will be punished.

This issue often arises when workers take multiple smoke breaks during the course of the workday.

Employers may limit or prohibit these breaks, but if the employer allows them and they last fewer than 20 minutes, the employees should not punch out.

Heat-Related Breaks

Heat-related safety breaks present a different issue.

Connecticut law does not specifically require that employers provide them, though one state statute does require employers to exercise reasonable care to provide a safe place in which to work.

Similarly, though OSHA has not yet issued a formal rule addressing heat injury and illness prevention, the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

As we approach the summer season, employers should plan to implement policies on heat-related safety breaks.

OSHA interprets this requirement to include heat-related hazards.

More information about OSHA’s standards on heat exposure and an employer’s duty to provide breaks, water, and shade can be found here, here and here

As we approach the summer season, employers should plan to implement policies on heat-related safety breaks.

And as noted above, authorized breaks of 20 minutes or less should be paid.

HR problems or issues? Email or call CBIA’s Diane Mokriski at the HR Hotline (860.244.1900) | @HRHotline. The HR Hotline is a free service for CBIA member companies and is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with legal professionals for specific guidance for your specific situation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests

The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.