How To Start Break Tracking (+ How To Navigate Break Waiving)

Our friends at KitKat may have been on to something. Because let’s be real, we all love a good break. It’s the perfect way to reset, recharge, and become a better version of ourselves. Your employees are no exception. 

The best way to make sure you’re making the most of employee breaks? By implementing a break tracking solution.

Keep reading as we dive into the world of break tracking and break down how you can start tracking breaks in your small business—pun intended.

Reduce stress with automated break tracking for your team during every shift with Homebase.

What is break tracking?

Break tracking is the process of documenting when employees take breaks during their work shifts. 

It can refer to tracking breaks for each employee or the team as a whole. Typically with break tracking, you record details such as what time an employee starts and ends their break, the duration of their break, whether it paid or unpaid, and any other shift-related information that might impact the break.

Breaks at work often fall into one of two categories; rest breaks and meal breaks.

  • Rest breaks: Rest breaks are shorter breaks that are designed to help employees regroup and recharge while on the job. Employees might use this time to grab a cup of coffee, catch up on their social media feed, or even just do absolutely nothing. Rest breaks typically range anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. 
  • Meal breaks: These are typically longer breaks that are designed for employees to enjoy a meal and refuel for the rest of their shift. Most of us might equate meal breaks to lunch breaks, but they can happen at any time of day—especially for shift workers. Meal breaks are often 30 minutes but can sometimes be even longer.

What are the benefits of break tracking?

As a small business, you likely have a to-do list that feels like it’s a mile long (we can relate). Break tracking might feel like an unnecessary task to add to your daily to-do list. But in reality, break tracking can actually save you time, money, and even strengthen the trust and relationship with your team.

Here are a few reasons you’ll want to prioritize employee breaks and break tracking.

Better compliance with break-related labor laws

Break tracking can help you follow the rules in more ways than one.

Whether or not you have to provide your employees with breaks will depend on your local labor laws. Some industries and regulatory bodies may also have additional rules around breaks, for example, for drivers carrying passengers or property. Break tracking can help make sure employees get the breaks they’re entitled to.

For example, in California, you’re required to provide a 30-minute break if a shift lasts over 5 hours. Meanwhile, Maryland’s Shift Break law for retail businesses says that a 15-minute break is required for a shift lasting 4-6 hours. You’ll need to provide a 30-minute break for shifts lasting more than 6 consecutive hours and a second break if the shift lasts longer than 8 hours. 

While there are no federal laws around providing breaks, there are important rules when it comes to paying (or not paying) for them. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, shorter breaks under 20 minutes are considered compensable work hours, which means employees need to be paid for that time. But longer breaks and meal times are not considered work hours and employees don’t need to be paid for longer breaks.

By break tracking, you’ll know exactly how long each break is, so you can pay your team properly. Plus, you’ll be following the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rules, which require you to store time cards—including breaks—for up to 4 years.

Break breakdown: This handy chart from the U.S. Department of Labor breaks down the mealtime and break rules by state.

Faster and stress-free payroll

Payroll can feel like a bit of a headache even in the best of circumstances. Toss in a bunch of paid and unpaid breaks and you might find yourself needing to take your own break.

33% of employers make payroll errors every year. And error-prone manual calculations are a surefire way to become a part of that statistic. When you’re not tracking breaks, you’re left guesstimating or manually calculating the unpaid and paid break hours for each of your employees. Or even worse, you might find yourself accidentally paying employees for unpaid breaks which can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year.

By tracking breaks with an online time clock, you can automatically calculate the exact number of working hours, paid breaks, and unpaid breaks—no math required. So when payday rolls around, paying your team is easy and stress-free.

Less surprise labor costs

Labor costs are often one of the biggest expenses for small businesses. Staying on top of your labor costs is key, and that includes—you guessed it—tracking employee breaks.

Breaks might feel like a small part of your payroll expenses, but even a few minutes here or there can add up quickly. The last thing you want is to realize that you’ve racked up hundreds of dollars in missed unpaid breaks, accidentally overpaid for a break, or employees have accidentally gone into overtime. Break tracking eliminates these less-than-ideal surprises on payday. 

You’ll also have a record of exactly when each employee clocks in and out for their breaks. So you can easily catch intentional and accidental time theft, like extra-long paid breaks or unauthorized skipped breaks.

Breaks made simple: Easily store time card data and track paid and unpaid breaks with Homebase breaks.

Improved employee experience and productivity

Paid and even unpaid breaks can feel like a dent in your bottom line. But breaks are actually a win-win for both you and your team.

A survey found that 88% of employees say they return to work feeling refreshed and energized after a break. Even if breaks aren’t mandated in your area, regular employee breaks can go a long way in improving employee happiness and productivity. And of course, we know that happy employees are more likely to stick around, reducing employee turnover

Implementing break tracking makes sure that employees never miss a hard-earned break and are getting paid properly for their time. It’s also a great way to keep your employees accountable for their working hours and build trust within your team.

What is break waiving or break waivers?

Break waiving is when an employee chooses to waive or not take a break—even when they’re entitled to one. 

Employees may choose to skip a break themselves or they might do so at the request of their employer. Break waiving can happen for many reasons. An employee may want to skip a meal break so they can earn an extra 30 minutes of wages. Or an employer may request an employee skip their break to cover an unexpectedly busy shift. 

Each state has different rules regarding break waivers. For example, according to the California Labor Code, breaks can only be waived if the work period is shorter than 6 hours. They can also only be waived if you and your employee both agree, AKA you can ask an employee to waive their break, but you can’t force them to.

Just make sure to document all instances of break waiving, just in case you’re ever audited. It’s a simple step to help you stay compliant. Documented break waivers serve as a paper trail proving that you’ve offered mandatory breaks and the instances where you’ve mutually agreed to waive them.

How to track employee breaks

Break tracking is a no-brainer for most businesses. So how can you get you and your team started?

Here are some steps to help you get started with tracking breaks.

1. Implement a break tracking system

Break tracking is simple—if you have the tools to do it. And while you could go old-school and manually track breaks with a time-tracking spreadsheet, we know you can do better.

One of the best ways to do this is by using a time clock. Time clock apps, like Homebase, make it easy for employees to track their breaks and for you to review them. All your team needs to do is punch in when they start and finish their breaks and the software does the rest!

The best time clocks can even help you automate employee schedules and breaks. Some can even help you set break rules, so you can calculate paid and unpaid breaks automatically. 

2.  Create an employee break policy

Creating new employee policies can feel a bit like you’re being the work police. But it’s less about rules and more about keeping everyone on the same page. 

Your break policy should include details such as:

  • When employees are entitled to breaks
  • When breaks are optional or mandatory
  • Which breaks are paid or unpaid
  • How breaks are scheduled
  • How employees are expected to track their breaks
  • How employees should communicate when they’re taking their breaks
  • Rules for waiving breaks

But don’t just stick a copy of the policies on the wall and call it a day. Make sure to take the time to clearly communicate the benefits of break tracking with your team, so everyone is on board.

3. Create employee break schedules

Scheduling employee breaks ahead of time isn’t always necessary, but it can go a long way in making sure that you have the right coverage and that everyone gets a chance to take their break. 

The last thing you want is to have everyone on break at the same time, or worse—run out of time to give employees their breaks.

4. Review breaks and employee hours

Once you have your team on the break-tracking train, it’s time to keep an eye on the reports. Are employees taking their breaks? Are they taking breaks when they’re supposed to? 

Are there better times for employees to take breaks based on your sales forecasts?

If you set it and forget it, you won’t reap all the rewards of break tracking. Reviewing employee breaks from time to time can help you make sure employees are following policies and optimize them.

Reviewing your employee breaks can help with workforce planning, managing labor costs, and even improving the customer experience.

Break tracking done right with Homebase

Ready to start tracking break time better? Homebase’s all-in-one employee management software and time clock can help you track breaks with ease.

  • Track breaks from (almost) any device: Homebase’s mobile time clock app means employees can clock in and out from their breaks with almost any iOS, Android, or POS device.
  • Create employee schedules in just a few clicks: Auto-schedule employee working hours and breaks based on their availability, sales forecasts, and labor costs.
  • Turn breaks into timesheets and payroll: Automatically turn breaks and hours worked into timesheets, so running (accurate) payroll is a breeze.
  • Stay compliant with break laws: Break waivers are available on the Homebase Plus and All-in-one plans. Set break rules right within the app so your team never misses a break—and you never break the law. Homebase tracks all taken and waived breaks, so you have documentation and never are at risk for compliance issues.

Reduce stress with automated break tracking for your team every shift with Homebase.


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