Currently, there is no federal law which requires employers to give rest or meal breaks to their employees during the working day. Additionally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), which is the federal wage and hour law, does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks. This is why some states have implemented their own laws which require such breaks, while others have not. However, based on common practice, many employers provide their employees with a rest or lunch break. Whether this is paid or unpaid largely depends on the employer’s discretion.
It is estimated that fewer than half of the states require employers to give a meal break. In states in which meal breaks are mandatory under local employment law, employees are given a half hour meal break after they have worked more than five or six hours at a time.
It is important to note that if you are required to continue your work while you are eating, you have the right to be paid for that time. However, if you are completely relieved of work duties during your meal break, you are not entitled to be paid for this time. In most of the states in which employers give rest breaks to their employees, employees are allowed to take a ten-minute paid rest break for every four hours that they have worked.
However, different rules apply to workers who are minors. An example of this would be how in the state of Delaware, employers are required to provide minors with a thirty-minute meal break after they have worked five hours. This is in contrast to adult workers, who receive a thirty-minute break after working a minimum of seven and a half hours. Some states have also determined that there are special break rules for all minors, while other states have special break rules which only apply to employees who are 15 years old or younger.
Generally speaking, in order for a period of time to qualify for a rest break, the employees must be fully relieved of their work duties. Some states which require employers to give rest breaks include, but may not be limited to:
- California: State law mandates a 10 minute break for every four hours worked, if the work day is at least five hours long;
- Colorado: State law mandates a 10 minute break for every four hours of work;
- Kentucky: State law requires a 10 minute break for every four hours worked;
- Minnesota: State law requires employers to provide a “reasonable” amount of time in a four-hour period in which “to use the restroom.” This interpretation essentially provides employers with complete discretion;
- Nevada: State law requires one 10 minute break every four hours of work;
- Oregon: State law mandates a 10 minute break every four hours worked;
- Vermont: State law mandates “reasonable opportunities” during work periods in which to use the restroom. Similar to Minnesota, this mandate gives employers nearly complete discretion; and
- Washington: State law mandates a 10 minute break every four hours of work.
Additionally, more than 20 states have laws which require employers to provide meal breaks to employees during the work day. An example of this would be how in California, an employer cannot employ a worker for a work period of more than five hours per day, without providing a thirty-minute meal break.
However, if the total work period does not exceed six hours, the meal period can be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and the employee. Also, the employer is required to provide a second meal period of no less than thirty minutes if an employee works more than ten hours per working day. If the total hours worked is not more than 12 hours, the second meal period can be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee.
It is important to note that the waiver is only valid if the first meal period was not waived. Additionally, different state laws governing rest or meal breaks can vary based on the type of occupation or employment. An example of this would be how the requirements for factory workers may not be the same as the requirements for those who work in childcare.