Many employers mistakenly assume all employees are entitled to two fifteen minute breaks and an hour lunch break, in a normal work day. I have even spoken to attorneys who have made the same incorrect assumption.
Minnesota law outlines minimum breaks and meal periods, but does not specify the length of time for these breaks. The law applies to many, but not all places of employment. It may not apply if the employer has negotiated a labor agreement, as the parties are free to negotiate break periods which may be different than those provided in the law.
Minnesota Statute §177. 253, requires that employees be permitted adequate time from work within each four consecutive hours of work, to utilize the nearest convenient restroom. There is no mention of time for coffee or a smoke break.
Meal breaks are similar. Minnesota employers must permit each employee who is working for eight or more consecutive hours, sufficient time to eat a meal, but the meal break need not be paid. Once again, nothing prohibits employers and employees from establishing meal periods different from those provided in the law through collective bargaining.
Before an employer tries to reduce employee break times, it is a good idea to first determine if the Minnesota statute applies to the particular employer and employees. (For example exempt employees, agriculture employees, fire and police, elected officials, are all exempted from coverage.) Other questions to consider: Is there a collective bargaining agreement in place which covers breaks? What are the needs of the workplace? What does the employee handbook say about breaks? How do breaks fit into the work schedule and staffing levels? Where did the current break schedule come from, or was it just based on assumptions about what employees may be entitled to for breaks? Above all else, talk with your attorney before you make any changes.