In September of 2019, an Ohio Amazing warehouse worker named Billy Foister was disciplined by a supervisor for placing a wrong item in an order. Exhausted and having gone hours without a break, Foister experienced a heart attack shortly thereafter. No one noticed that the employee had collapsed until almost a half hour later. Foister passed away at the hospital despite doctors’ attempts to revive him. He was 48-years-old.
Thanks to companies like Amazon and Tesla, both of which have been in the news for their poor treatment of workers, more and more Americans are standing up for their rights as employees, especially when it comes to meal and rest breaks. While it sounds terribly immoral to anyone with a conscious, the world is littered with employers who are happy to deprive their employees of their legally-deserved break as a means of cutting costs.
Don’t let your rights fly out the window because your employer wants to save a few bucks. Instead, read this guide by Eric Kingsley on how you can stand up for your rights to meal and rest breaks at work.
Know Your State’s Laws
Sadly, there is no federal legislation that mandates meal and rest breaks for all of our country’s workers. With the exception of federal government employees, workers’ rights to breaks are determined at the state level.
Unfortunately, most states do not offer employees the guarantee of rest breaks and not all states require employers to give employees meal breaks. The following states legally require rest breaks for employees:
As a caveat, while Vermont and Minnesota require rest breaks, their only stipulation is that the break be long enough to allow the employee time to use the bathroom. The other states on the list determine mandatory break times based on how long the employee is working continuously and whether or not the company provides a longer meal break.
It’s smart for employees to know the rights guaranteed to them by their state’s laws. For more information about meal and rest break laws in your state, consult the Department of Labor’s web portal on the subject.
Know Your Company’s Corporate Policy
In cases where an employee experiences ill health due to a lack of break time, the company will often argue that their corporate policy does indeed mandate meal and rest breaks. This is especially true in warehouses like Amazon, where the intense pressure to make a quota and to get shipments out on schedule can be overwhelming.
You might be wondering how it’s possible for a company to deny rest breaks if it’s in direct conflict with their corporate policy. What typically happens is that a supervisor, intent on making their quota for their department, will not inform employees that they have a right to a break. Furthermore, they might sternly discipline and put pressure on employees who underperform, such as how Billy Foister’s supervisor treated him in the hour leading up to his death.
Employees should always educate themselves on their company’s corporate policy when it comes to meal and rest breaks. If a direct supervisor is not following the official policy or depriving them of their guaranteed breaks, the best course of action is to file a complaint with either human resources or with the corporate office.
Workers Deserve Better
There’s no reason that anyone should die at work. No job is worth sacrificing your health or sanity. It’s time that workers became familiar with their rights and stood up for fairness.
If your state doesn’t guarantee breaks, contact your legislators and tell them that you want better for the workers in your community. If your state guarantees breaks but your employer isn’t allowing you to take them, contact your state’s Department of Labor or Attorney General to file a complaint.
Similarly, if your direct supervisor isn’t following corporate policy when it comes to meal and rest breaks, file a complaint with the main office or HR. Remember, your supervisor has a supervisor. Don’t let your manager’s need to make a quota get in the way of your health and your rights as a worker.