Should you record paid rest periods?

Should employers record rest breaks? The California Wage Orders give employees the right to periodic (10) minute, paid rest periods.  Unlike statutory meal periods, paid rest periods do not need to be recorded on timekeeping documents (e.g. time clock, timesheets).  However, employers often ask if they should have their employees record the rest periods anyway to show that they have been taken.  I’m not a fan of recording rest periods for several reasons.

First, it’s not required by law and often creates more problems than it solves. For example, payroll departments spend countless hours managing “missed punches” for legally required information (start/stop times; meal periods, etc.). Adding an additional four time entries (in/out for two rest breaks) increases the error rate for punches by a significant multiple.  Furthermore, it creates an additional responsibility for employees and I would prefer that they focus on the punches that are legally required.  Second, it cuts into productivity by requiring employees to start earlier and return to work later while they are completing the time records (five minutes or more of lost time for each (10) minute rest period adds up!). Finally, unless you are committed to capturing 100% of valid rest breaks on time records, the absence of a “punch” creates an implication that the rest period was not taken (even if it was).

Rather than attempting to record rest breaks, the following steps can help you effectively manage compliance with the Wage Order rest break provisions:

  • Communicate accurate rest break policies to employees on a regular basis
  • Ensure that supervisors understand the importance of making breaks available within the time periods required by law
  • Provide multiple channels for employees to report if they are not receiving the their legally–required breaks (supervisor, Human Resources, hotline, etc.)
  • Add a place on time-recording documents for employees to indicate if they have not received their required breaks during the prior pay period, and
  • Pay missed break period penalties when employees are legitimately deprived of the right to take breaks as required

It is the employer’s obligation to ensure that rest breaks are “available.”  Aggressively focusing on that obligation through the steps above is often much more effective in demonstrating legal compliance than attempting to record rest periods.