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Meal and Break Laws

Many American workers have questions about whether they must receive meal and rest breaks during their workdays and for how long each day. Whether and for how long an employee, whether hourly or salaried, receives meal and/or rest breaks may depend on the break laws of the state where they live. Some states do not provide any meal breaks and/or rest breaks to employees, while others do. Moreover, some businesses that are not required to provide meal or rest breaks may have policies that provide them. In those situations, the employers may be required to abide by those own rules by state labor laws.

Federal Meal and Break Requirements

Currently, there are no federal break laws mandating that U.S. employers provide meal, lunch, or break periods for their workers except for nursing mothers to express breast milk. This applies regardless of whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt from minimum wage or overtime requirements

Even so, employers that choose to provide meal and break periods are legally obligated to follow certain requirements. For example, employers that allow non-meal rest periods (usually lasting up to 20 minutes) must pay employees for that time. Employers must also pay employees for permitted restroom breaks even if they are not explicitly addressed in the employer’s policy. On the other hand, employers that allow bona fide meal or lunch breaks (usually lasting at least 30 minutes) do not have to pay employees for that break time as long as the employees are not required to work during such breaks.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must pay non-exempt employees for any time classified as “hours worked.” This means an employer may have to pay an employee for any work done during a bona fide meal break, even if the work is done voluntarily. In other words, an employer who is aware that an employee is “working through lunch” to complete a task, and allows him or her to do so, must pay the employee for that time.

Employers who decide to provide meal and/or break rests to their employers, but then fail to provide those rests to their employees, may be in violation of the FLSA and may be penalized by the US Department of Labor. Employers can avoid this legal obligation by implementing relevant policies. For instance, policies mandating that employees take unpaid meal breaks away from their desks can help ensure employers will not have to pay them during that time.

State Meal and Break Requirements

Because states create their own break laws, each has different rules pertaining to meal and rest breaks. In some states, their break laws only pertain to minors. In others, the rules only apply in certain circumstances and may only apply to hourly or non-exempt employees while excluding salaried or exempt employees. Some states don’t have any laws governing these activities at all. In that case, federal laws apply if the employer has chosen to provide meal and/or rest breaks. Moreover, many employees may be covered by collective bargaining agreements that permit for meal and rest breaks, and employers would be required to comply with those agreements.

Following is a quick summary for each state.

  • Alabama – Employers must let any employee age 14 or 15 who is scheduled to work five continuous hour take a 30-minute rest or meal break. There is no state meal or rest break law for employees age 16 and older. Therefore, relevant federal law applies.
  • Alaska – Employers must allow employees age 14 to 17 who work at least five (5) consecutive hours to take a break of no less than 30 minutes. The break must be taken after the first 90 minutes of work but before the beginning of the last hour of work. There is no such requirement for an employee age 18 or older. If an employer elects to allow breaks, it must pay its employees for the time on break if it is no more than 20 minutes. Longer permitted meal breaks are unpaid, as long as employees do not perform any work.
  • Arizona – There are no relevant state break laws. Federal law applies.
  • Arkansas – The only applicable requirement under state law pertains to minors less than 16 years of age working in the entertainment industry. If an employer elects to permit short breaks (no more than 20 minutes), employees must be paid for that time. Longer permitted meal breaks (usually at least 30 minutes) may be unpaid as long as the employee does not have to do any work-related tasks during that time.
  • California – Employers must allow employees who work for more than five (5) consecutive hours to take a meal break for at least 30 minutes. California meal laws require that employers provide employees with a meal period of no less than a 30-minute when they work more than five (5) consecutive hours; or for employees in the film industry who work more than six (6) hours in certain circumstances. The employer and employee may mutually consent of waive the meal break. Also, employers must provide employees a second meal break of not less than 30 minutes if the employee works more than ten (10) hours in a day. If the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the employer and the employee may agree to waived the second meal break if the first meal break was not waived. Any such meal break is classified as “hours worked” and the employee must be paid accordingly unless he or she is relieved of all work-related duties and can leave the employer’s premises. California law only permits employers to provide an “on duty” meal period in certain circumstances. Employers must also let some non-exempt employees take a net 10-minute paid rest period for every four hours worked or major fraction thereof. When possible, the rest period should be in the middle of the work period. This does not apply to employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one half (3 1/2) hours. The rest period is classified as time worked and therefore, the employer must pay employees accordingly.
  • Colorado – Has rest break requirements governing the provision of meal and rest breaks to employees in certain industries. These are the retail and service, food and beverage, commercial support services, or health and medical industries. They must allow their employees to take meal breaks lasting at least 30 minutes when they work more than five consecutive hours. Any such meal break is classified as “duty free” and therefore “unpaid” as long as the employee is free from all work responsibilities the whole time. “On duty” meal periods are allowed when “duty free” meal breaks are not practical. Employees must be paid for “on duty” meal breaks. Colorado employers in these industries must also allow employees to take ten (10) minute, paid breaks for every four hours worked significant portion thereof. If at all possible, the break should be in the middle of the shift. Colorado does not have any meal or break requirements for employers in other industries, so federal law prevails.
  • Connecticut – has applicable laws mandating that employers allow their employees to take meal breaks of no less than 30 minutes if they have worked for 7½ or more consecutive hours. Employees are expected to take such breaks some time after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours. Exemptions apply in certain circumstances. Connecticut does not have laws pertaining to shorter break (“rest”) periods, so federal law applies.
  • Delaware – Has applicable laws for workers age 18 and older. Employers must allow them to take meal breaks lasting no less than 30 minutes when they are scheduled to work 7.5 or more hours per day. These meal breaks are usually unpaid, with certain exceptions. Exemptions are also made in certain circumstances. Employees must take these meal breaks sometime after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours of work. Delaware law also mandates that employers must allow any employee who is less than 18 to a meal break for at least half an hour providing he or she is scheduled to work more than five straight hours per day.
  • Florida – Has break laws mandating that employers allow employees who are not yet 18 to take meal breaks of no less than 30 minutes if they are scheduled to work more than four consecutive hours in any given workday. The state does not have meal and break laws for adult employees, so federal law applies.
  • Georgia – Does not have any applicable state law, so federal law applies.
  • Hawaii – State labor law mandates that employers allow any employee age 14 or 15 to take a meal break of at least 30 minutes as long as he or she has worked at least five consecutive hours. However, it does not have applicable state laws for older employees, so federal law applies.
  • Idaho – Does not have its own laws governing the provision of meals and breaks. The federal break laws apply.
  • Illinois – Has labor law stipulating that employers allow workers scheduled to work at least seven-and-a-half straight hours to take a meal period of no less than 20 minutes. It may be unpaid and an employee must take it no later than five hours after their shift starts. The law also provides that an employee can take one such meal break for every seven-and-a-half hour period he or she works. Accordingly, an employee working a 15-hour shift would get two meal breaks during that time. Because Illinois does not have laws pertaining to shorter break periods, federal break laws apply.
  • Indiana – Labor law stipulates that employers provide either one or two rest periods totaling to more than 30 minutes to employees who are not yet 18 if they are scheduled to work six or more consecutive hours. However, there are no such laws applying to adult employees, so federal law applies.
  • Iowa – Only has labor laws mandating that employers give 30-minute (or longer) meal breaks to employees who are not yet 16 as long as they are scheduled to work at least five consecutive hours. Because Iowa does not have labor law governing meal breaks and rest periods for older employees, federal break laws prevail.
  • Kansas – Does not have applicable labor law. Federal law applies.
  • Kentucky – Labor law stipulates employers must allow employees to take at minimum, a 10-minute, paid rest period of during each four hours of work. Furthermore, employers must provide a “reasonable period” for a meal break, which must be taken between the third and fifth hours of the employee’s shift. A meal period does not have to be paid so long as the employee is not required to work at all during the break.
  • Louisiana – Has break laws mandating that employers let employees under the age of 18 who are scheduled to work five straight hours. The meal period does not need to be paid. Because the state does not have such laws for older employees, federal law applies.
  • Maine – Labor law stipulates that employers allow employees to take an unpaid rest break of 30 consecutive minutes after they have worked six hours. However, this only applies six if at least three are on duty. Relevant parties may negotiate the number of breaks, but must agree on the terms and document it in writing.
  • Maryland – Labor law mandates that employers provide any employee who is not yet 18 with a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours worked. The state’s Healthy Retail Employee Act includes stipulations pertaining to breaks for employees in certain retail businesses. Aside from that, the state does not have any laws pertaining to meal breaks or rest periods for older employees. Therefore, federal law applies.
  • Massachusetts – With certain exceptions, applicable law stipulates that employers cannot make employees work more than six hours in a given workday without a 30-minute break. Stipulations pertaining to paid and unpaid break periods mirror the stipulations in federal law.
  • Michigan – Labor laws mandate employers provide any employee who is not yet 18 with a 30-minute uninterrupted rest period as long as he or she is scheduled to work more than five continuous hours. Employers are not required to provide breaks or meal breaks for older employees, so employers who choose to provide them must follow federal law regarding paid and unpaid breaks.
  • Minnesota – Labor lawmandates that employers give employees “restroom time and sufficient time to eat a meal.” The meal break stipulation only applies when employees work eight or more consecutive hours. Any break lasting less than 20 minutes must be paid. Employees must get “rest room” breaks within each four (4) consecutive hours of work.
  • Mississippi – Does not have applicable laws, so federal law applies.
  • Missouri – Does not have applicable laws, so federal law applies.
  • Montana – Does not have applicable laws, so federal law applies.
  • Nebraska – Applicable state law mandates that employers provide employees in assembling plants, mechanical establishments, and workshops a 30-minute lunch period during each eight-hour shift. Employers in all other businesses have sole discretion over provision of lunch periods or any other type of break. This stipulation applies regardless of shift duration. Employers who choose to give meal and rest breaks must follow federal provisions pertaining to paid and unpaid breaks.
  • Nevada – Applicable laws mandate that employers give employees a meal period of at least half an hour when working for a continuous period of eight hours. Nevada’s rest break requirements require employers to also give employees a break lasting no less than 10 minutes for each four (4) hours worked, or significant portion thereof. Employers are not required to provide breaks for employees working less than three and a half hours. The break must be paid.
  • New Hampshire – State labor laws mandate that employers must provide 30-minute meal breaks for any employees working more than five straight hours. If this is not possible and the employee is forced to work through a meal break, he or she must be paid. Employers must follow federal rules with respect to any additional breaks.
  • New Jersey – State labor laws mandate that employers allow any employee who is not yet 18 to take a 30-minute break after they have worked five straight hours. Because the state does not have applicable laws for older employees, federal break laws prevail.
  • New Mexico – Does not have any relevant laws, so federal break laws apply.
  • New York – Labor law stipulates that employers must provide meal breaks of varying lengths based on the time and duration of the employee’s shift.
  • North Carolina – Applicable break law stipulates that employers allow any employee who is 14 or 15 years of age to take a 30-minute break when they are scheduled to work more than five hours. In absence of similar provisions for older employees, federal law applies.
  • North Dakota – State law stipulates that employers allow employees to take unpaid and uninterrupted 30-minute meal breaks whenever they work more than five hours and there are at least two employees on duty. Employers do not have to provide any other breaks. If they choose to do so, any breaks that are less than 30 minutes must be paid.
  • Ohio – State labor law mandates that employers give employees who are not yet 18 a 30-minute uninterrupted break when working at least five consecutive hours. Because the state does not have similar provisions for older employees, federal law pertaining to meal and rest breaks applies.
  • Oklahoma – Applicable break laws mandate that employers let workers who are not yet 16 take 30-minute rest periods when scheduled to work more than 5 consecutive hours. Moreover, employers must let these employees take a one (hour cumulative rest period for each eight consecutive hours worked.
  • Oregon – Under applicable break laws, employers must give employees at least one 30-minute unpaid and uninterrupted meal period when the shift duration is at least six hours. Employees must be paid for their meal break if they are required to work during that time.
  • Pennsylvania – State labor law requires employers to let any employee age 14 through 17 take 30-minute meal brakes if they work five straight hours. Federal law applies to meal breaks and rest periods for older employees.
  • Rhode Island – Under state labor laws, employers must give employees a 20-minute meal period during a six-hour shift, and a 30-minute meal during an eight-hour shift. This does not apply to healthcare facilities or companies employing fewer than three employees at one site during a shift.
  • South Carolina – In absence of applicable state laws, federal break laws apply.
  • South Dakota –In absence of applicable state laws, federal rules apply.
  • Tennessee – In accordance with state labor laws, employers must provide a 30-minute rest period to employees who are scheduled to work six (6) consecutive hours. This stipulation does not apply to jobs conducive to taking such breaks. Employers are not required to provide any other breaks, but those that do must abide by applicable federal rules.
  • Utah – State labor law stipulates that employers must provide a meal period of at least 30 minutes to employees under the age of 18 when they work more than five hours. Employers must also provide a rest break of at least 10 minutes to employees who are not yet 18 for every three-hour period or portion of such period worked. Employers are not required to provide rest or meal breaks for older employees. However, those who do must follow federal rules pertaining to paid and unpaid meal and rest periods.
  • Vermont – In accordance with state labor laws, employers must provide employees with “reasonable opportunity” to eat and use toilet facilities in order to safeguard the employee’s health and hygiene. Federal rules apply to paid and unpaid breaks.
  • Virginia – State labor laws mandate that employers provide a lunch period of no less than 30 minutes to employees who are 14 or 15 years of age when they are scheduled to work for more than five straight hours. Employers are not required to provide meal breaks for older employees. Those who elect to do so must generally follow federal break laws for paid and unpaid breaks.
  • Washington – In accordance with state labor laws, employers other than agricultural employers, must allow employees who are 18 years old and older at least one 30-minute meal break when they work at least five consecutive hours in a workday. They must also provide employees who are age 18 and older a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for each four-hour period worked. Additional stipulations apply.
  • West Virginia – In accordance with state break laws, employers must allow employees to take meal breaks of no less than 20 minutes when they are scheduled to work at least six hours, they do not get necessary breaks and/or they are not allowed to eat while working. These breaks must be taken “at times reasonably designated by the employer.” Any other breaks, provided at the employer’s discretion, must be paid if they last less than 20 minutes. Employers must also allow workers who are not yet 16 to take a lunch break for no less than 30 minutes if they are scheduled to work for more than five hours.
  • Wisconsin – State labor laws mandate that employers allow employees under the age of 18 at least a 30-minute duty free meal period when working a shift lasting more than six hours. Employers are not obligated to provide meal or rest breaks for older employees, but those who do must follow federal rules pertaining to paid and unpaid breaks.
  • Wyoming – In absence of any applicable state labor laws, federal rules apply.

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