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Illinois’s One Day Rest in Seven Act and Meal Breaks: What to Do When Employees Work Beyond their Scheduled Hours?

On January 1, 2023, Illinois amended Its One Day Rest in Seven Act, or ODRISA, to increase worker protections both in work scheduling, and by updating required meal periods for employees who work a certain number of hours in a given day. You are no doubt aware that Section 3 of ODRISA requires that employees who work for 7 1/2 continuous hours are to be provided at least 20 minutes for a meal period beginning no later than 5 hours after the start of the work period, and employees who are to work more than 7 1/2 hours are entitled to an additional 20-minute meal period for every additional 4 1/2 hours worked. These requirements are easy to predict and navigate when you are dealing with regularly scheduled employees, but become more complicated when you have an employee covering for a coworker who did not appear for their shift.

We have seen businesses receiving Illinois Department of Labor complaints about employees whose eight-hour shifts required virtually no work activities, who were free to eat at their leisure throughout their shift, the employees essentially being paid just to be present, and yet still considered a violation where a 20-minute meal period was not explicitly provided.

You need to also be aware that as of January 1, 2023, the fines for violating the meal period provision increased. An employer with fewer than 25 employees faces a penalty of up to $250 to IDOL and $250 to the affected employee(s), per offense. An employer of greater than 25 employees sees those penalties increase to up to $500 to IDOL and $500 to the employee, again, per offense. It is a separate offense for each employee who is denied their ODRISA meal break and it is a separate offense for each day in which each employee was denied their ODRISA meal break.

If you have two employees who are denied their ODRISA meal periods for a five-day working week, you are facing 10 offenses, with fines up to $1000.00 per offense. The IDOL has taken a position of issuing complaints seeking the maximum possible penalty. While it can always be hoped that they can be negotiated down from those maximums, the better practice is to be prepared to prevent these kinds of complaints in the first place.

So, what to do about an employee scheduled for a shift that required only one, or possibly no, meal break, and who is now unexpectedly going to work past one of those deadlines?

You should ensure that your polices, procedures, and handbooks make clear that meal periods are mandatory for employees who are scheduled to work the requisite number of hours. Your supervising staff needs to be aware of these requirements and prepared to step up to help offset these surprise shift extensions. Where an employee agrees to work a shift that will take them beyond the hours-worked threshold, your best practice will likely be to give them a meal break immediately. The stickiest situation will be an employee who is only scheduled to work six hours, and suddenly is to work a longer shift. At this point, you have already missed the “within the first five hours” deadline, so being proactive with scheduling and providing meal periods can help to make sure that these surprises do not become even more costly.

If you are concerned that your current policies, procedures, or handbooks might not comply with ODRISA, we would be happy to help review and revise them and help keep you in compliance with this law.

Questions? Contact attorney John Simmons in our Davenport office at (563) 333-9102 or by email.

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