How to Accurately Track Employee Meal Breaks to Avoid Restaurant Lawsuits

Compliance is one of the biggest factors to consider when establishing restaurant employee policies and processes. Studies by Seyfarth’s 2017 Workplace Class Action Litigation Report found that in 2016 workplace class action settlements hit a total of $1.64 billion; and the settlement value tripled for wage and hour litigation. That means more and more employees are suing their employers, and they’re winning bigger settlements.

One of the biggest regulations to focus your efforts on is ensuring employees take their meal and rest breaks. Several states require strict meal and rest break requirements. If your state is on the list, here are some tips on how to accurately track breaks to avoid any lawsuits.

Be proactive

The best defense is the strong offense. Rather than wait for an issue to arise, be proactive! It’s much easier to correct a process before a potential legal battle on your hands.

When an employee is first hired, instill that breaks are an important part of their day. Educate them on the legal rights they have, and let them know that you prioritize their well being. However, instilling the importance of breaks should be enforced beyond training; there should be natural reminders built into your processes every day. For example, scheduling breaks for the same time every day, creates a routine that prompts employees to go on their breaks naturally, without managers needing to micromanage.

If an employee doesn’t take their break, remind them that it’s a rule with a reason. If an employee decides to waive their break, make it formal: have them provide a reason via a messaging platform or adding a note box to their clock in/out method. Being proactive in your processes can help ward off litigation issues.

Check break times daily

Oftentimes, employers are blindsided when litigation arises. When an employee claims they didn’t receive a meal break or didn’t receive a sufficient amount of time for a break, managers and owners are often surprised: they had no idea.

Auditing individual break times day to day can eliminate these compliance surprises. Managers should be able to check in on employee clock hours. This isn’t to micromanage employees clocking in and out, but rather it’s to make sure they’re taking their assigned break and being paid any agreed upon premiums.

When managers have a firm grasp on the behaviors of their employees and their break behavior, they’ll be able to easily and quickly mediate any issues that may be forgotten in the future. Memories of the day are fresh. Managers won’t need to chase employees to confirm when they clocked out or why their break wasn’t taken; or make any assumption on an employees clocked hours.

Train your managers properly

Your manager is your your second pair of eyes and ears. If you train your managers properly, you’ll be able to trust them with sensitive issues, like auditing meal breaks and tracking schedules for payroll. It will help tighten up your processes and manage employee behavior.

Continuously training managers can help keep them refreshed on your policies and learn new ways to inspire employees to comply by the rules. By providing your managers with the right tools to manage employees with up to date training, you’ll be able to cover your bases an an employer if a compliance issue arises.

Document everything

Yes, everything. An important part of preparing litigation is gathering proof: you need evidence that you created an environment to acknowledge, encourage, and provide breaks for employees.

Look into software to help you maintain your records. There are software providers that can track clock times and breaks, streamline the approval process, and alert managers if employees aren’t taking the correct number and frequency. Meal waiver forms are another cautionary step to covering your bases; you can have an employee fill one out every time they waive a break and/or meal. They aren’t a requirement, but they are another document that could help bolster a legal issue.

 

In conclusion, the best way to tackle the lurking menace of litigation and lawsuits as a restaurant owner, is to have the right tools in place. A good manager, helpful tools, and full understanding of compliance laws guarantee compliant businesses.