What Happens if I Never Get to Take an Uninterrupted Meal Break?

Erin Medeiros

Uninterrupted meal breaks are important for all employees even though in some industries it is rare to take a meal break. A meal break of at least 30 minutes allows employees to eat, de-stress, and mentally prepare for the rest of their shift. Meal breaks are beneficial to both mental and physical health. Your employer can even require that you take a 30 minute lunch break. However, many healthcare and other workers are not provided with this opportunity.

It is not illegal for your employer to automatically deduct a 30 minute lunch break from your pay, but you must be paid if you do not take that 30 minute lunch break. It is also not illegal for your employer to interrupt your lunch or require you to work through your lunch, but your employer must pay you for that time worked if you are an hourly paid employee.

It is too often that healthcare workers work straight through their meal break or are interrupted during that break because of patient needs or other work-related duties and are not paid for this time. Many nurses, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants are required to carry phones or pagers and are expected to answer during their meal breaks.

If you are interrupted from your meal break after only 15 minutes, responding to a call or page, then you did not receive a meal break even if you finished your food; instead you returned to work early. Under Wisconsin and federal law, your employer may not dock your paycheck for a half an hour meal break in such a situation. Your meal break must be an uninterrupted 30 minutes.

In addition, under Wisconsin law, your employer must also allow you to leave the premises for a 30 minute meal break. If you are told that you are required to remain at the hospital or clinic at all times, then your employer may be violating state law if it does not pay you for your 30 minute lunch break.

If you are an employee paid by the hour and think that you are not being paid properly when working through your lunch period, give us a call. We look forward to discussing your concerns with you. Contact us at (414) 240-1185.