One of the issues that repeatedly rears its head in wage and hour litigation and Department of Labor investigations is whether employees are being compensated properly for meal periods.  One practice that is almost always controversial, in this regard, is the automatic payroll deduction for lunch.

Absent thorough policies and safeguards to prevent inaccurate timekeeping, the automatic deduction is a significant legal risk that should be used with extreme caution.  The reason — it is too easy for employees to claim they have been asked to work through lunch, or that they can not always leave their workstation at the designated time to take advantage of the full period.  Some tips to avoid "he said – she said" litigation in this area include the following.

  1. Implement a clear off the clock policy explaining that employees should not work off the clock and should report any supervisor who makes such a request.
  2. Maintain clear procedures for "exceptions" to automatic lunch deductions so that supervisors can correct payroll as warranted by special circumstances or business needs.
  3. Require employees to acknowledge any deviation from automatic deduction practices.
  4. Train managers on the importance of payroll polices and procedures.

Following these simple steps can help avoid misunderstandings and eventual litigation.  Even if you prevail, wage and hour litigation can be fact intensive and expensive.  Accordingly, this is one area where you can ill afford to not have comprehensive policies and procedures in place.