Under the federal law, there is no requirement for employers to provide meal, lunch or rest break periods. Employers can do so at their own discretion. Federal law requires employers who grant employees non-meal rest periods (usually lasting 20 minutes) to pay employees for their time on the rest break.

State laws have different rules regarding meal and rest breaks. Some states require employers to allow employees to take rest breaks throughout the workday. Some state laws provide employees the right to take 10-minute rest breaks, with pay, every four hours worked. A few states allow employers to choose between giving meal breaks or rest breaks. Some states only require employers to provide employees bathroom breaks.

When Must a Worker Receive a Meal Break?

With the exception of the broadcasting and motion picture industries, the rules for meal periods are that if a employee has worked more than 5 hours in a shift:

  • Employee must be allowed at least a 30-minute meal period.
  • Employee must be at least 2 hours into the shift before the meal period can start.
  • The meal period cannot start more than 5 hours after the beginning of the shift

The meal period may be waived by mutual consent if a work period is less than six hours. Unless the employee is completely relieved of duty, the meal period must be considered time worked. Also, if employees must eat on the premises, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated.

When Must a Worker get a Rest Period?

Workers must be allowed to take a rest period for at least 10 minutes after working for 4 hours. A worker can take a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for each 4 hours worked. An employer must pay the employee for the rest period. Rest breaks can be used for any purpose that the employee chooses. However, such breaks are subject to whatever policy the employer has established.

Do I Get Paid for Meal and Rest Breaks?

If an employee gets meal or rest breaks, the employer does not have to pay for the meal or rest breaks unless:

  • The state’s law requires paid rest breaks
  • The rest break only last up to 20 minutes or less while on shift
  • The employee has to work through the break
  • For meal breaks, the employer does not have to pay for the meal breaks that last over 20-30 minutes. If an employee has to eat while doing work, the employee must still get paid for the entire time working.

Are Workers Injured During Lunch Or a Break Covered By Workers’ Compensation Insurance?

If an employee is injured at lunch, it is usually considered outside the scope of the employment relationship unless the employee was not completely relieved of their duties during the lunch hour. The nature and place of the injury are also strong considerations. An employee injured during a break is likely to be considered within the scope of employment and thus eligible for workers’ compensation insurance.

What Type Of Claim Could I Make?

Denying employees breaks is a violation of wage and labor laws.  in addition, the worker may also be able to claim back wages for as long as their breaks were denied, which may constitute overtime pay. If a worker is not allowed to take any legally required breaks or the worker is required to work through the breaks without getting paid, the worker can contact the state’s labor department and file a claim.

Do I Need a Attorney?

An workplace attorney is capable of informing you of your rights and evaluating whether you have a valid grievance against your employer.  If you are an employer, an employment attorney can also make sure you are in compliance with all state and federal meal and rest break laws.