Whole Foods Is Cutting Some Workers' Paid Break Time from 15 to 10 Minutes

The Amazon subsidiary says the policy change is part of an effort to "maximize [...] productivity."
January 12, 2021, 2:00pm
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Whole Foods has announced a new break policy in the United States, which could result in thousands of employees losing paid time to rest and recuperate during their shifts and working longer hours to maintain their earnings. 

Whole Foods employees in parts of Southern California, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South who previously received 15 minute paid breaks during their shifts will now receive 10 minute paid breaks. That means on a typical eight-and-a-half-hour shift, where workers in many states get two paid breaks, they will now have 10 minutes less to rest. 

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"This is just another insult from corporate," a Whole Foods employee, who wished to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation, told Motherboard.

Ten minutes might not sound like much, but it adds up over time. The change will likely result in full-time Whole Foods employees losing more than 40 hours of paid rest time each year. 

"We are standardizing our expectations for meal and rest periods across the company to maximize Team Member safety and productivity and to best meet our operational needs," the new Whole Foods policy, obtained by Motherboard, reads, noting that in some stores, this is already "current practice." 

The policy change is the latest in a series of blows to Whole Foods employees since the health food chain was acquired by Amazon in 2017. In late May, Amazon announced that it was cutting its $2 hazard pay for Whole Foods workers only a few months into the pandemic. In recent years, Whole Foods has also slashed healthcare benefits for part-timers, eliminated its popular gainsharing program, which gave bonuses to workers in departments that stayed under budget, and implemented shift cuts after the company introduced a $15 minimum wage.

The cuts to paid break time arrive after Amazon reported its most profitable year on record.

"It’s horrible," another Whole Foods employee said. "A partial reason for me to work at Whole Foods was paid breaks."

The new "meal and rest period" policy also mandates that employees take a 30 minute unpaid meal break if a shift exceeds give hours (many stores previously didn't require a 30 minute break unless shifts ran longer) which workers say will force them to work longer hours for the same paycheck. 

"You could argue that [team members will] work an extra 30 minutes to make up for the loss of income," another Whole Foods employee from Tennessee who wished to remain anonymous said.

Federal labor law does not require employers to grant workers meal or lunch breaks (though individual states have stronger protections), but mandates that employers pay workers for short rest breaks lasting less than 20 minutes. By shaving five minutes off break times, Amazon and Whole Foods will save costs by increasing worker productivity while remaining in compliance with the law.

Asked whether the policy change was a cost-saving measure, a spokesperson for Whole Foods said, "This change is part of our ongoing work to streamline regional policies and processes in order to create clear and uniform policies for Team Members across all regions."