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Mandatory work breaks proposed

Published (3/11/2010)
By Nick Busse
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Minnesota law requires that workers be given breaks during the workday, but some say a lack of specificity in the law is leading employers to ignore it.

Bernie Hesse, director of special projects and politics for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, said at some meatpacking plants in the state workers aren’t allowed to take time to relieve themselves. He said the situation was so dramatic in one plant that the employer actually locked the restroom doors.

“It’s not uncommon in some of these plants for workers to void in the trough because they can’t get off the line,” Hesse said.

Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) sponsors HF2810 that would specify that all workers must be given at least a 15-minute break for each four consecutive hours of work, plus a 30-minute lunch break for employees who work at least eight consecutive hours.

The House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division approved the bill March 9 and sent it to the House floor.

Currently, state law specifies that workers must be given “adequate time” for a break for each four consecutive hours worked and “sufficient time to eat a meal” when working eight or more consecutive hours. Rukavina said some employers are simply ignoring the “adequate” and “sufficient” requirements.

“I just don’t want to give any leeway anymore, because it’s the leeway in the current law that’s causing the problem,” he said.

Some members questioned whether the proposed break time requirements might be too long. Rep. Rob Eastlund (R-Isanti) said if the goal is merely to ensure that employees have sufficient time to use the restrooms, a 15-minute break requirement might be excessive.

“That’s a long period of time. I don’t think you need that long to relieve yourself,” he said.

Moreover, Eastlund argued the law as it’s currently written should be sufficient to make employers give their employees time to use the bathroom and eat lunch.

A companion, SF2408, sponsored by Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), awaits action by the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee.

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