Meal and Break Laws
Federal Meal and Break Requirements
Federal law does not currently require employers to provide meal, lunch, or break periods for their employees. However, it does place obligations on employers who, at their own discretion, choose to do so. Specifically, federal law requires an employer who grants employee non-meal rest period (usually the type lasting 20 minutes or less) to pay employees for their time on break. On the other hand, if an employer grants employees a bona fide meal or lunch period (usually of the type lasting more than 30 minutes), an employer does not need to pay for the break time so long as the employee is free to do what they wish while on break.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is very strict in requiring employers to pay non-exempt employees for all hours worked. This may include requiring an employer to pay an employee for time worked while on a bona fide meal or lunch break, even if the break is supposed to be unpaid. (See 29 CFR 785.11). If an employee works during a lunch break that is supposed to be unpaid, an employer may be obligated to pay additional wages, including unintended overtime, to that employee. Employers can implement policies to prevent employees from working during unpaid meal or lunch periods, such as requiring employees to eat lunch away from their workspace, to ensure they will not be held responsible for paying employees during that time.
State Meal and Break Requirements
State meal, lunch, and break requirements vary from state to state and cover the spectrum of limitations. Please note that many states do not have any meal or break requirements, only have meal or break requirements for minors, or only provide for meal or break periods in certain situations. When state law is silent regarding meals and breaks, federal law applies.
Below are links to pages that contain summaries of and links related to each state’s meal and break requirements. Where possible, the legal authority for the meal or break requirement has been provided with a link to that legal authority. Additionally, where available, the state’s name contains a link to the page or document on the website of each state’s department of labor website or other state website addressing the state’s meal and/or break laws.
The FLSA, as well as most state laws, require employers to pay non-exempt employees for all hours worked. This may require employers to pay employees for time worked during what is supposed to be an unpaid meal or lunch break. (See 29 CFR 785.11). As stated above, employers can implement policies to prevent employees from working during unpaid meal or lunch periods to ensure they will not be held responsible for paying employees during that time.