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Pros and Cons of Auto-Deducting Meal Break Periods from Employee Paychecks

Pros and Cons of Auto-Deducting Meal Break Periods from Employee Paychecks

When it comes to the dozens of administrative duties an HR department has to oversee. So when there’s a solution that entails automation that will make life easier, the instinct is to embrace it.

However, when it comes to automating deducting meal break periods from an employee’s paycheck, you should not be making that decision without weighing the pros and cons carefully.  In this article, we will give you plenty to consider before you establish an auto-deduction policy for meal breaks.

Pro: Tracking Is Tricky

Tracking lunch and break periods for all employees can be an HR rep’s worst nightmare. Whenever you’re dealing with the human element, you will also be dealing with human error. That means employees may often forget to clock out for lunch, adding minutes (and over large periods of time, hours) to their paycheck. On the other hand, it’s easy to get caught up in getting back to work and forget to clock back in when lunch is over. Both of these scenarios lead to overpaying or underpaying your staff and making payroll’s job even harder.

Automating the system by automatically deducting time for breaks from the employee paycheck means no one has to think about it. The employee doesn’t have to remember to clock in and out, managers don’t have to adjust times and payroll doesn’t have to deal with inaccurate timekeeping.

Con: Doesn’t Fit All Industries

While auto-deducting seems like a great solution, many industries aren’t designed to allow for regular and uninterrupted meal break periods. One of the professions that experiences the least reliable meal break periods is healthcare. Working in the ICU, Labor and Delivery, the Emergency Room, and other acute care settings often requires workers to take breaks if and when they can.

When certain industries like healthcare auto-deduct for meal breaks, they can run into issues of employees having to work while being “off the clock” and not being paid. While auto-deducting is conducive to some industries, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and employers should consider the nature of their industry before adopting it. 

Pro: Ensures Compliance

While federal law does not mandate giving employees time for meal breaks, most state laws do. Deducting pay for that time reminds employers and employees alike that they are entitled to that time away from their duties, and they need to consistently take it. 

Con: The Law May Not Always Be On Your Side

One of the first things people wonder when they hear of an auto-deduct policy is, “Is that even legal?” The answer is yes! It is absolutely legal. But while the policy itself is legal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t open employers up to a host of legal issues. For example, class action lawsuits have been filed against employers for automatically deducting for meal breaks that weren’t taken or were interrupted. These lawsuits entitled employees to overtime pay, hurting the company right in its bottom line. 

If you’re going to automatically deduct for meal breaks, make sure to leave accurate documentation of employees who didn’t take a meal break or didn’t take the full time permitted. This helps you know that despite your automatic deduction, adjustments will need to be made to pay back employees for that time.

To avoid these issues altogether, it is recommended that if you are in an industry where meal breaks often get interrupted, an automatic deduction for that time should not be made. If you are not in such an industry, establish a culture in your workplace that honors time away from work for meal breaks. 

For information on topics like these and all other HR-related concerns and interests, Complete Payroll’s blog is your go-to source for insightful, useful, and entertaining information about life in HR. 

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