Meal Break and Rest Break Laws
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't require meal or rest breaks for workers. The FLSA is an important federal employment law that regulates most U.S. workplaces. However, when employers provide short rest breaks, federal law regards them as paid work time. They must be part of the total hours an employee works during a week. You must also consider any time spent in one of these short breaks when calculating whether overtime pay is owed.
Employers covered by the FLSA must also comply with laws concerning break time for nursing mothers.
While federal law doesn't impose rest break requirements for most workers, some states have laws mandating meal breaks and rest breaks. If you work in a state that doesn't require meal or rest breaks, your breaks are a matter of agreement between you and your employer.
Below, we will discuss state laws providing meal and rest breaks. For more information, visit FindLaw's Wage and Hour Laws section.
State Laws - Required Meal Breaks
Twenty-one states have laws regarding required meal break time:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
The most common duration for meal breaks among these states is a 30-minute meal break in approximately the middle of any workday.
Generally speaking, executive, administrative, professional employees, and outside salespersons are exempt from required meal break times. California law also exempts certain workers, such as commercial drivers, construction workers, and utility company employees, if they have a collective bargaining agreement. The agreement must include a provision for employee meal periods.
State Laws - Required Rest Breaks
Nine states have laws regarding required rest break time when it comes to the private sector:
The most common time for rest breaks among these states is a 10-minute break during each four hours of work.
State Law Examples
Below are examples of states that provide for both meal break time and rest break time.
An employer can't employ you for more than five hours per day without providing a meal break of at least 30 minutes. If your total work period per day isn't more than six hours, you and your employer may waive the meal break.
If you work more than ten hours daily, your employer must provide a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. The second meal break can be waived by you and your employer if the first meal period wasn't waived and no more than 12 hours are worked. An on-duty meal period is considered time worked. It's permitted only when the work's nature does not allow relief from all duties. In this case, the parties must also have a written agreement. However, you can revoke the agreement at any time.
In Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012), the California Supreme Court concluded that employers must make meal breaks available to employees and relieve employees of all duties during meal breaks. But at the same time, the court concluded that employers have no obligation to ensure that employees take a meal break. The court also ruled that a first meal break must fall no later than five hours into an employee's shift. However, an employer isn't obligated to schedule meal breaks at five-hour intervals throughout the shift.
Employers must authorize and permit one paid, 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked. If possible, the 10-minute rest break should occur during the middle of each work period. The 10-minute rest break isn't required for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and a half hours.
Working through a rest break doesn't give an employee the right to leave work early or arrive late. In addition, the 10-minute rest break isn't designed exclusively for using restroom facilities. Suitable resting facilities must be in an area "separate from toilet rooms," the California Department of Industrial Relations has said. Using the bathroom during work doesn't count as a 10-minute rest break.
Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted meal break of at least 30 minutes when the scheduled work shift exceeds five consecutive hours of work. This break only qualifies as non-work/non-paid time when employees are relieved of all job duties and allowed to engage in personal activities.
When an uninterrupted meal period is impossible, the employee can consume an on-duty meal while working. The employee can eat a meal of choice on the job and be fully compensated for the on-duty meal period without losing time or compensation.
Every employer must permit rest breaks. The rest break should be in the middle of each four-hour work period. A paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours is permitted. Employers cannot deduct the rest breaks from your wages. You don't have to leave the work premises during the rest break.
State Law - Rest/Meal Breaks Not Required
Several states do not require that private employers provide employees with workday meal or rest breaks. They are:
While some states require meal breaks for adult employees, almost all states require meal breaks for minors — workers under 18 years of age.
Get Legal Help With Your Questions About Meal Break and Rest Break Laws
Because state laws differ concerning required meal breaks and rest breaks, you should review your state's laws to determine your rights as an employee. If you need help understanding your employer's obligations regarding break periods, rest periods, and paid rest breaks, it's best to speak with a local employment lawyer who can analyze the laws and facts specific to your situation.
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