Rest and Meal Breaks Lawyers

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 What Are The Laws For Rest And Meal Breaks During Working Hours?

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.

When Must A Worker Receive A Meal Break And/Or Rest Period?

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

  • They must be allowed at least a 30-minute meal period;
  • They must be at least 2 hours into the shift before their meal period can start; and
  • The meal period cannot start more than 5 hours after the beginning of the employee’s shift.

To reiterate, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent if a work period is less than six hours. Again, unless the employee is completely relieved of duty, the meal period must be considered time worked and therefore must be paid. If employees are required to eat on the premises, meaning that they are not allowed to leave campus for meals, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated.

Employees must be allowed to take a rest period for at least 10 minutes after working for 4 hours, and a worker can take a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes of each 4 hours worked. Additionally, an employer must pay the employee for the rest period. Rest breaks can be used for any purpose that the employee chooses; however, breaks are subject to whatever policy the employer has established.

If an employee is allows 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 lasts up to 20 minutes or less while on shift;
  • The employee is being required to work through the break, as was previously mentioned; and
  • For meal breaks, the employer does not have to pay for breaks that last over 20-30 minutes. However, if an employee is required to eat while doing work, the employee must still be paid for the entire amount of time spent working.

Are Workers Who Are Injured During A Rest Or Meal Break Covered By Workers’ Compensation Insurance?

If an employee is injured at lunch, it is generally considered to be outside the scope of the employment relationship, unless the employee was not completely relieved of their duties during their lunch hour. The nature and place of the injury will also be taken into consideration. An employee who is injured during a break is more likely to be considered within the scope of employment, and thus eligible for workers’ compensation insurance, than compared to any employee who is injured at lunch.

Denying employees breaks is a clear violation of wage and labor laws. Additionally, the worker may 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 if they are required to work through the breaks without getting paid, they can contact the state’s labor department in order to file a claim.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Problems With Rest And Meal Breaks?

If you are unsure whether you are entitled to rest or meal breaks, or if you feel that your employer is violating the laws regarding rest or meal breaks, you should consult with an employment law attorney. Employers themselves may also consult with an employment law attorney in order to ensure that they are in compliance with state and federal employment laws.

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