There are times when I allow some leniency about break time policy. Sometimes workers may work extra hours to help a project meet its deadline. Letting them recuperate a little longer may help them to be more productive the rest of the day.
Also consider lunch breaks. Employees have the right to a 30-min. lunch. The people who brown bag their lunch may find it easier to keep to the 30-min. limit. What about those who send out for lunch? We have a system in which one employee gathers all the lunch orders during the morning break. Each day we use a different restaurant. One employee calls in and picks up the order. Before we used this system workers straggled in at all different times after lunch. The benefit to our system is that everyone stays here and is ready to return to work at the same time.
It is important as managers to set good examples regarding breaks. We wouldn't want to be seen taking breaks at inappropriate times during the day. You must be available to your workers at critical times. They have to know that you have a sense of urgency.
Check out these Web sites for details on each state's rules regarding working hours: www.laborlawtalk.com and www.dol.gov. Some things have gained the status of urban legend, like how many hours a day a person can legally be made to work. I was told once I could not make anyone work more than eight hours a day, but there is actually no law against it. It is better that employees have the actual facts about labor laws, so that they know whether or not their employer's requests are reasonable and lawful.
I hope this information helps to clear up any difficulties you are having around break time. Now get back to work!
About the author: Jon Olson is the production and operations manager for Sterling Surfaces in Sterling, Mass. He has been a solid surface fabricator since 1982 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.