September 1, 2015

Does My Company Have to Give a Paid Coffee Break?

By Paul Bieber

In a one-word answer: NO.

Unless either:

  • You have a labor contract that specifies this;
  • or, you want to retain good employees.

Well, the first point is obvious. It is the second point that really is the topic of this blog—holding on to your good employees in an economic time when companies in our industry are looking to steal every good employee they can.

Many firms don’t give a paid coffee break. Think of every job that is done on piece-work… agriculture, sewing or to folks who are self-employed or independent contractors. 

Still, there is no law that says you have to give paid time off during the day. Every state has laws that says an employee must be given unpaid time off after a certain number of hours worked. In New York, for instance, it is five hours. So you have to give a lunch break, but you don’t have to pay for it. But still, nothing in law about a paid break during the work time.

People skip breakfast, very often, actually. And by mid-morning their energy level is low, which translates into less work output. Give the chance to recharge those work batteries. The company will come out ahead. Why morning and not the afternoon? Because most people eat a larger lunch than they do breakfast and their work output will be OK.

The single biggest reason is more important: EMPLOYEE MORALE. Employees who get 10-15 minutes to converse over something other than work, or follow-up on a personal phone call, or just nod off for 40 winks are happier at work.

The only thing you should do is gently manage this break so that it doesn’t grow to 20 minutes or become a company meeting over which you don’t have control. It is usually a good idea if you share a cup of coffee with your team when you can. You’ll learn more about your people and your company than you ever could in a formal meeting.