HR Basics: What’s Required for Meal and Break Times?

Not all states have the same laws regarding meal and rest breaks — make sure you know what’s required.

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HR Basics - Meal and Break Times: What’s Required?

Business leaders understand the importance of allowing workers time to eat and rest during their shift. Meal and break times can be an essential tool in assuring employees are ready to perform at their best. However, many business leaders are unsure how much meal and break times are required under the law. The answer — it depends on where you do business.

Federal law does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, many states have rules regarding meals, rest, and consecutive days worked. Therefore, collective bargaining agreements may provide more time for meal or rest breaks, but they cannot have less time than the law in their state requires.

Who is entitled to meal and rest breaks?

Meal and break time laws apply to non-exempt workers only. These are employees whose wages are paid for hours worked. Salaried workers, who receive the same amount of pay per pay period regardless of hours worked, are not entitled to meal and break times under state laws. These workers are considered ‘exempt,’ meaning they are exempt from earning overtime.

Salaried workers are generally not entitled to meal and break times under state laws.

Non-exempt workers paid hourly and eligible for overtime pay are the only employees covered under state meal and break time laws.

What’s the difference between meal and rest breaks?

Under federal law, meal breaks last at least 30 minutes and are not considered work time. This means employees do not have to be paid for their meal break.

Rest breaks (the federal Department of Labor calls them coffee breaks) are 20 minutes or less, are considered work time. Employers must pay employees for break times. Additionally, time spent on breaks must be included in hours worked to determine if the employee is eligible for overtime.

While there are no federal laws regarding meal and rest breaks, all states that have enacted regulations use these time length definitions. Meal breaks are generally longer and unpaid — rest breaks are shorter and paid unless expressly excluded under the state law.

States that require meal and rest breaks for workers

No federal law requires employers to provide meal or rest breaks to workers. However, many states do. Some only apply to minors, and others apply only to specific industries. Always check with your local Department of Labor to assure you understand all current meal and rest break laws in your state.

No federal law requires that you provide meal or rest breaks to workers, but your state may have requirements.

In some states, rules apply to workers scheduled for their shift — whether or not they work the entire shift. In other states, rules apply to workers who work a minimum of consecutive hours per shift. There is a difference — you may schedule an employee to work a short shift, but their time is extended. You’ll need to know whether or not they are entitled to breaks based on the additional, unscheduled time. Here’s where these laws apply currently:

Meals and break times cannot be taken “at your desk” in most states. However, employees may be entitled to specific break areas (some with free water) depending on the state. Check with your local Department of Labor for any meal/break room requirements.

State-Specific Requirements for Meals and Breaks

State Requirement
Alabama Minors 14 to 15: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked per shift.
Alaska
  • Minors under 18 scheduled to work more than 6 hours: 30-minute meal or rest break (unpaid).
  • Minors under 18 who work 5 consecutive hours: 30-minute meal or rest break (unpaid).
California Meals:

  • 30 minutes, unpaid, for every 5 hours worked per shift.
  • Additional 30 minutes, unpaid, for employees who work more than 10 hours per shift.
  • Penalty: 1 additional hour of pay for every meal period not provided.

Rest:

  • Minimum 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked per shift
  • Penalty: 1 additional hour of pay for every rest period not provided
Colorado Meals:

  • 30 minutes, unpaid, for every 5 hours scheduled per shift.

Rest:

  • Minimum 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked per shift
Delaware
  • At least 30 minutes if scheduled 7.5 consecutive hours or more per shift
  • Must be given after the first 2 hours of the shift and before the last 2 hours of the shift.
  • Minors under 18: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked per shift.
Florida Minors under 17: 30 minutes for every 4 hours worked per shift.
Hawaii Minors 14 to 15: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked per shift.
Illinois
  • Minimum 20 minutes for every 7.5 continuous hours per shift.
  • The meal period may be unpaid and given no later than 5 hours after the beginning of the shift.
Indiana Minors under 17: 1 to 2 rest breaks (totaling at least 30 minutes) for every 6 continuous hours worked (unpaid).
Iowa Minors under 16: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked per shift.
Kentucky Meals:

  • A reasonable lunch period as close as possible to the middle of the shift, but no less than 3 hours and no greater than 5 hours from the beginning of the shift.

Rest:

  • 10 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours worked
Louisiana Minors under 18:  30 minutes for every 5 hours worked per shift.
Maine 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 6 hours of work per shift
Maryland Minors under 17: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.

Retail workers:

  • 4 to 6-hour shifts: 15-minute break
  • More than 6 hours: 30-minute break
  • 8 or more hour shifts: 30-minute break plus additional 15-minute break for every additional 4 hours

Check here to find businesses exempt from retail workers’ break rule in Maryland.

Massachusetts 30-minute meal break after 6 hours work per shift
Michigan Minors under 17: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
Minnesota Employees who work at least 8 hours must be given sufficient time to eat a meal
Nevada Meals:

  • 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 8 hours work per shift

Rest:

  • 10 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours work per shift
New Hampshire Employees who work more than 5 hours generally must be given a 30 minute meal period.
New Jersey Minors under 18: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
New York (For most non-factory workers)

Meals:

  • 30 minutes between 11 am and 2 pm for shifts 6 hours or longer that extend over that time period.
  • 45 minutes if the shift is more than 6 hours and starts between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
  • Additional 20-minute break between 5 pm and 7 pm for workdays that extend from before 11 am to after 7 pm.
North Carolina Minors under 15: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
North Dakota 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked if more than 2 employees are on duty.
Ohio Minors under 17: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
Oklahoma Minors under 16:

  • 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
  • 1 hour of rest for every 8 hours worked.
Oregon Meals:

  • 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 6 hours work per shift
  • If the employee works between 6 and 7 hours, the meal must be taken between the second and fifth hours
  • If the employee works longer than 7 hours, the meal break must be taken between the 3rd and 6th hours
  • Employees must receive one or more additional meal breaks if the work period is 14 hours or longer.

Minors under 18:

  • 30 minutes beginning no less than 5 hours and one minute after the beginning of the shift.

Rest:

  • 10 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours of work per shift.
  • Minors under 18: 15 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours of work per shift.
  • Rest breaks must be separate from meal breaks.
Pennsylvania Minors under 17: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
Rhode Island Meals:

  • 20 minutes (unpaid) for every 6 hours of work per shift.
  • 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 8 hours of work per shift.
Tennessee 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 6 hours of work per shift
Virginia Minors under 15: 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
Washington Meals:

  • 30 minutes (unpaid) for work shifts more than 5 hours
  • Additional 30 minutes for every 3 hours overtime after the normal work shift.
  • Minors 14 to 15: 30 minutes for every 4 hours worked.
  • Minors 16 to 17:
    • 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.
    • Meal break begins no earlier than 2 hours and no later than 5 hours from the start of shift.

Rest:

  • 10 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours of work per shift.
  • Minors 14 or 15: 10 minutes (paid) for every 2 hours of work per shift.
  • Minors 16 to 17: 10 minutes (paid) for every 3 hours of work per shift.
  • Scheduled as near as possible to the midpoint of the shift.
West Virginia 30 minutes (unpaid) for every 6 hours of work per shift

Minors under 16:  30 minutes for every 5 hours worked.

Wisconsin
  • Meal break of 30 minutes required for minors under 18.
  • Meal breaks are recommended for workers over age 18.

Day of rest rules

In addition to requiring specific amounts of time off per shift for meals and breaks, 10 states currently have a ‘Day of Rest’ rule. This requires employers to provide some version of unscheduled work for every 7 days an employee is scheduled. But, again, there are different ways this is legislated.

Employers in California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, and Wisconsin must provide 1 day of rest every 7 days. This can mean 1 day off per week at any time during a 7-day period. Some businesses stretch the rule but stay within its guidelines with 1 day off, 12 days on, 1 day off.

What day of rest looks like

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Day off Work Work Work Work Work Work

 

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Work Work Work Work Work Work Day off

Other states have their own versions of days of rest.

  • Massachusetts requires employers to provide workers 24 hours of rest after 6 consecutive working days.
  • New Hampshire requires employees who must work on Sunday to receive 24 hours of rest during the following 6 days.
  • New York and Rhode Island prohibit employers from firing or discriminating against employees who will not work on Sundays or holidays.
  • In Texas, retailers must give employees who work more than 30 hours per week a minimum of 24 hours to rest or worship every 7 days.

Whether or not meal and rest breaks are mandated where you do business, they can be important to offer. Breaks give employees a chance to unwind for a bit and refuel for the remainder of their day. They’ve even been shown to increase productivity. So providing them could be a best practice for every business.

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