Rights, Policies Employee Meal, Lunch & Rest Break Rights

Meal, lunch and rest break rights of an employee are dependent upon the specific law in place where you are employed.

State Law Determines Rest, Meal and Lunch Breaks

Most employers allow their employees to take a break in the middle of their work shift for rest or food and meals. These breaks may be paid or unpaid. However, a midday break on the job is not a federal requirement under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), although many states have enacted laws which do make this a requirement on the part of employers.

Even if an employer is required by state law to provide you with meal or rest breaks, the employer is not required to pay the employee for break time unless:
  • The law in your state entitles an employee to be paid for the break
  • The employee is required to work during the break
  • The break is for a duration of only twenty minutes or less

Meal and Lunch Breaks – State Laws

Less than half the states in the U.S. have laws which require employers to provide their employees breaks for meals. The states that do have meal break laws usually require employees to be given a half hour to eat for every five or six hours that they work. In some states, this meal break can not be given either at the end or the beginning of a shift. For current information on state laws covering food and meal breaks in your state, please check the website of the Federal Department of Labor.

Unless an employee is required to work while eating, the employer is not required to pay the employee for this break. The employer will have to pay the employee for the break time if the employee is expected to work, for example, by continuing to answer phones while eating lunch.

Rest Breaks – State Laws

Employers are only required to provide rest breaks in a few states, namely Washington, Vermont, Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Kentucky, Colorado and California. In Vermont and Minnesota, these laws only require employers to provide employees with time to take restroom breaks. The other states all allow for paid ten minute breaks for every four hours that the employee works. In some other states, employers can choose to provide either a meal break or a rest break.

Work Rules for Younger Workers (Minors)

When it comes to younger workers, many states will require employers to permit them to take a meal or rest break. Most states which provide for breaks for adult workers will have stricter laws for minors. For instance, adults who work for seven and a half hours in the state of Delaware are entitled to a half hour break. Minors will get a half hour break if they are working for five hours.

Other states have different rules in place, with some states having special rest and meal break rules for those under the age of eighteen and others for those under the age of fifteen. If you need more information about the work break laws for minors in your state, you should contact the labor department in your state to ensure that you are informed of the current law.

What If You Don't Get a Work Break?

In the event you are not obtaining a rest or meal break that your employer is legally required to provide and/or are not getting paid for a break when the law requires, you should contact the labor department in your state.
Employment & Labor
Employee Rights
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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