Do I Get a Break or Meal Period at Work?

You may wonder whether the law requires break periods or a meal period at work. Meal periods or break periods at work are a common practice, but are not required everywhere. In fact, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) employers are not required to provide meal breaks or rest breaks for employees.

State law varies on the issue of mandatory break periods for employees, and while some states require breaks, others do not. The specifics of meal and break requirements vary by state; however, states that have some meal break requirement include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

If you don’t live in one of these states, you are not legally entitled to a meal or rest break. Of course, employers are free to require rest periods or meal breaks as a matter of internal policy. Check your employee handbook to see if your employer requires employees to take a break.

Work Breaks for Health or Medical Conditions

If you need a break to accommodate a medical condition or disability, your employer might be required to accommodate those needs. For example, a diabetic might need a break to eat or to administer insulin at work. Other medical conditions may require rest periods or frequent bathroom breaks.

Nursing mothers are entitled to breaks under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you are a nursing mother who is not exempt from overtime pay and your employer has at least 50 employees in a 75 mile radius, your employer must allow you a reasonable break to express milk in a place other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public, for up to one year after giving birth. Again, state laws may offer additional protection, and might also apply to smaller employers.

If My Employer Offers a Break, Do They Have to Pay Me?

If your employer does offer or require a meal break, they are not required to pay you for that time unless:

  • State law requires paid rest breaks
  • You are required to work through your break
  • Your break lasts 20 minutes or less (these are considered part of your work day and must be paid)

In the states that require meal breaks, the most common practice is to require that employees who work 5 or 6 hours at a time be allowed 30 minutes to eat. Some states prohibit employers from giving this time off near the beginning or end of a shift.

What Qualifies as a Break?

If an employee is not completely relieved of all work duties, their employer must pay them. For example, if you are required to do work during your break, like answering the phones or waiting for a delivery while eating, then your employer must pay you for that time.

Different Break Rules Apply for Younger Workers

Many states require meal or rest breaks for younger workers. In Delaware, where employers must provide a 30 minute meal break to employees who work at least 7 and one-half hours, minors are entitled to a 30-minute break if they work for 5 hours.

Some states have special break rules for minor employees who are under 18 years old, while others have rules for workers 15 years or younger.

If you have questions about whether you are entitled to a meal or rest break, or believe you are entitled to a break but are not receiving it, contact the experienced FLSA and employment lawyers at Brady & Associates today.

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