Sometimes the best intentions can place your company at risk for violating the Federal Department of Labor Wage and Hour regulations. Below is a common practice that some contractors are using. But is it prohibited under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

The scenario: Your non-exempt field staff typically get 30 minutes for lunch, which is unpaid. On occasion when job deadlines are tight, the field staff quit lunch early and take only a 15-minute lunch break.

So, on their paycheck, do you deduct 15 minutes for the lunch they took and pay them for the rest of the hours they worked that day?

The catch: While federal regulations don’t mandate that you provide a lunch period or a break (some states do), they do specifically state that “the employee must be completely relieved from duty for purposes of eating regular meals,” and the break must generally be at least 30 minutes or longer.

What to do: Educate lead carpenters about this regulation. Require all non-exempt employees to record hours worked and lunch periods taken. Be sure to carefully review timesheets each pay period.

If you find breaks of less than 30 minutes, your safest bet is to ignore this shortened break and not account for it in the employees’ pay.

—Douglas R. Delp is president of The Delp Group, in Green Lane, Pa., which provides human resources and benefits solutions.