The North Carolina Wage and Hour Act does not require mandatory rest breaks or meal breaks for employees 16 years of age or older. The WHA requires breaks only for youths under 16 years of age. Youths under 16 years of age have to be given at least a 30-minute break after 5 hours, and no break of less than 30 minutes shall be deemed to interrupt a continuous period of work. Again, there are no required rest breaks or meal breaks at all for employees 16 years of age or older. The North Carolina law on breaks for youths under 16 years of age generally applies only to enterprises that have gross sales or receipts of less than $500,000 a year and to private non-profit organizations. It is our understanding that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not require that an employer give its employees mandatory rest breaks or meal breaks regardless of an employee's age.
Generally, if an employer does give breaks, then the break must be at least 30 minutes for the employer to be able to deduct the time from an employee's pay. An employer does not have to let its employees leave the employer's premises as long as the employee is completely relieved of duty during the 30-minute break, and the employer does not have to provide a breakroom. An example of an employee "completely relieved of duty" is one who is completely relieved from having to wait for customers to come in or to call. Waiting for customers to come in or to call is clearly work time even if the employee is free to eat or read a magazine while they are waiting for customers or calls. Generally, breaks of less than 30 minutes, such as a 15-minute rest break, have to be paid by the employer.
Also, there is no North Carolina law requiring an employer to give its employees a smoke-break or to provide a place for its employees to smoke. There is a North Carolina law making it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee for the employee's lawful use of lawful products, such as tobacco, during non-working hours (N.C.G.S. §95-28.2). However, it is entirely up to an employer to set its own rules for its employees during working hours concerning breaks and if its employees are allowed to smoke in its premises or not during the workday.
For more information about workplace rights, please contact our toll free number at 1-800-NC-LABOR (800-625-2267).