by Chad Taylor
Q: Am I required to provide breaks to employees?
A: According to the United States Department of Labor, federal law does not mandate any kind of breaks for employees. However, the law does state that if an employer provides breaks up to 20 minutes, they are to be paid. The law also states that if an employer provides a specific lunch break — that is, a break where an employee is relieved of all duties for the express purpose of eating a meal — it is not required to be paid. If your office has the habit of “working lunches,” where employees eat at their desks while answering emails or taking phone calls, those are paid minutes, under federal law. At the state level, while some states have specific laws governing breaks, Iowa has no such additional requirements. The lone exception to this rule covers minors under the age of 16, where Iowa law mandates an unpaid 30-minute break for a shift five hours or longer.
Q: What kind of concessions am I required to make for new mothers?
A: Under both federal and state guidelines, maternity leave is unpaid. For businesses with 50 or more employees, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 requires up to 12 weeks of leave be provided for serious health conditions, bonding with a new child or preparation for a family member’s military service. For smaller companies that do not meet the FMLA requirements, Iowa law provides for up to eight weeks of leave for time off relating to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. Maternity leave is covered under those guidelines, as are any prenatal visits, bed rest due to pregnancy complications, or hospital stays brought about from childbirth. Additionally, both federal and state labor laws dictate that an employer must provide a clean and private space for a new mother to breastfeed or pump, with breaks usually correlating with the company’s usual break schedule.
Q: Can I prevent or discourage employees from discussing their pay with one another?
A: For the most part, no. Section 7 of The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits companies from limiting employees discussing pay for “collective bargaining or other mutual aid.” Although the wording may seem a little vague, National Labor Relations Board has made very clear interpretations over the years, resoundingly on the side of employees’ rights to discuss salary and wages. So as a general rule, employees are allowed to share their pay information with one another freely. Exceptions to this rule are any employees who deals directly with company wage and payroll information revealing other employees’ wages, and anyone working for municipal governments or religious schools.
Even if your company requires employees to sign non-disclosure agreements, they may still legally discuss pay in the workplace.
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