Break time at work: federal & state meal/rest break laws

Federal labor law establishes a number of employee requirements that employers must follow. Federal labor law doesn’t mandate meal or rest breaks, but many states have laws requiring employers to provide breaks. It’s important to be familiar with both federal and state regulations to ensure compliance.

To stay compliant, your best bet is to use free shift scheduling software like Homebase that’ll help you make sure you’ve got enough coverage to give everyone on your team their mandated breaks, remind them to take breaks and clock in on time, and more.

Plus, with automatic timesheet error alerts, you’ll see at a glance if someone didn’t take their required breaks or forgot to clock back in.

A free time clock that frees up your time. 

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Federal break laws

Get familiar with federal break laws to make sure you’re meeting your obligations and providing your employees with the necessary rest periods.

You should also be aware of what exempt and non-exempt employees are and how these laws apply to them.

Review federal and state regulation

Familiarize yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at the federal level, as well as any state-specific laws governing breaks. Stay up-to-date with any changes or updates that may affect your obligations.

Develop clear policies

Establish written policies that outline your company’s break periods and whether they’re paid or unpaid. Make sure your employees are aware of these policies and have access to them.

Communicate with employees

Clearly communicate your break policies to your employees and address any questions or concerns they may have. Encourage an open dialogue to foster understanding and compliance.

Homebase’s free mobile app has a built-in messenger tool to make it easy to stay connected and improve team communication.

Maintain accurate records

Keep detailed records of your employees’ work hours and breaks, including any unpaid meal breaks. This documentation can serve as evidence of compliance should any issues arise.

Federal labor law

Federal labor law enters in when employees have breaks deducted from their check when they do not actually take that time away from their duties. At some businesses, a lunch period is deducted as a matter of course, but many employees don’t actually take a lunch.

If they eat at all, it’s often at their desk while they continue working. Sometimes, employees are paged to take phone calls or resume their tasks before their lunch break is up. Unless employers offer an easy way to edit time cards, they can end up owing a large amount of back pay.

Reimbursing employees

Employees must be reimbursed employees for all the time actually worked. The same policy goes for rest breaks. A company cannot automatically deduct wages for unpaid rest breaks since not all employees take their full break or any break at all.

Employees and employers can protect themselves by making sure lunch and rest breaks are properly tracked and that employees are paid for all the time they actually work.

Types of breaks

Meal breaks

Only 21 states require employers to give their workers lunch breaks, while nine require employers to offer lunch and rest breaks. Many employers in the 29 other states offer lunch breaks but do so because they consider it good policy.

Employees are usually more productive when they have time to regroup and relax during the day. Also, many job seekers would hesitate to take a position where these breaks were not offered.

Those states that require lunch breaks usually do so for employees that are working at least five or six hours a day. Some states mandate that this lunch break cannot be given at the beginning of a shift or at the end. For instance, an employee should expect their lunch break to be somewhere in the vicinity of mid-day.

Rest breaks

A majority of states do not mandate rest breaks. Some give the employer a choice of offering a lunch break or rest breaks. States like California do require employers to offer a ten minute paid break for every four hours worked.

Other states that mandate paid breaks are Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington. As a matter of practice, however, short breaks of 20 minutes or less are generally considered part of the employee’s workday and are not deducted from their check.

Minor employee breaks

Some states like Delaware require employers to offer longer breaks to minors. In that state, adult workers get a 30 minute meal break after seven and 1/2 hours while minors get the same meal break after working five hours.  Younger workers are more vulnerable and often still growing. They may well need this extra time to rest from their duties.

Bathroom breaks

Bathroom break laws are slightly different and come from OSHA. Employees are not guaranteed a specific number of restroom breaks each day, but employers are expected to allow reasonable bathroom access without penalty.

Also, the government recognizes that individuals have different bathroom needs, especially those with certain medical conditions, so employers must be careful with any restrictions they might try and impose on their employees in this area.

Employers do have the right to crack down on “excessive” bathroom use, although the definition of excessive is often hard to pin down.

Cigarette breaks

Employers are not required to make any accommodations for smokers. In fact, many businesses are now no-smoking areas. Employees can use their regular rest breaks and lunch breaks to smoke if they wish, but in some cases they will have to leave their workplace to find a place to legally smoke.

Since breaks are usually under 20 minutes, that can limit a smoker’s options. The best plan for both employers and employees is to put a break policy in writing. Often, these two parties have different ideas about what breaks are allowed and whether they are paid or not.

Developing a smoke break policy

Establishing a clear policy and communicating verbally and in writing will help protect employers. Employees have a right to know the company’s detailed policy on breaks so that they can affirm that it follows state law. Clear communication on this issue will help keep both parties productive and out of court.

State break laws

Overview of Federal and State Break Laws

California

Meal Break

Employees working more than five consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute paid meal break. If they can leave the premises and are relieved of work duties, it can be unpaid. If not, it must be paid.

Employees can waive the lunch break if agreed upon and the workday is six hours or fewer. A second 30-minute meal break is required for shifts longer than 10 hours, but it can be waived if the first break wasn’t waived and the total work hours are 12 or fewer. Failure to provide a meal break results in an extra hour of pay at the regular rate.

Here, you can review California overtime laws.

Rest Break

Employees receive a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked, except for work totaling less than three and a half hours. Those working in extreme weather conditions get a five-minute “recovery period” in addition to meal and rest breaks.

If employees miss one or more rest breaks due to work demands, employers must pay them an additional hour of wages at the regular rate.

Colorado

Meal Break

If your employees work for 5 or more hours, they are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. If they can enjoy a break free from work duties, they can have an unpaid break. However, if they need to remain on duty during their meal break, they must be paid for that time.

Rest Break

Employees in the retail, food and beverage, commercial support, health, and medical industries are eligible for a 10-minute paid rest break for every 4 hours worked.

Connecticut

Meal Break

For non-exempt employees who work at least 7.5 hours, a 30-minute meal break is required. However, there are exceptions where employers are exempt from this requirement.

These exceptions include situations where complying with the break would endanger public safety, when the nature of the job can only be performed by one employee, if there are fewer than five employees working in a specific location, or if operational needs demand employees to be available for urgent conditions.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Delaware

Meal Break

For employees aged 18 and above who work at least 7.5 hours, an unpaid 30-minute meal break is required. This break should be scheduled after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours of work. However, there are exemptions to this requirement.

Employers may be exempt if complying with the meal break endangers public safety, if the job duties can only be performed by one employee, if fewer than five employees are working at a specific location, if operational needs necessitate employees to be available for urgent conditions, if there is a collective bargaining agreement stating otherwise, or if the employee works directly with children for a local school board.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Illinois

Meal Break

Employees who work for 7.5+ continuous hours are entitled to an unpaid meal break of at least 20 minutes. This break must be given no later than five hours after the start of their work shift. During this break, employees can take time off from their duties to rest and recharge.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Kentucky

Meal Break

Employees who work for 5+ consecutive hours are entitled to a reasonable unpaid period, usually around 20-30 minutes. This break should occur after the third hour of work and before the fifth hour. It allows employees to take a well-deserved pause to have a meal or rest.

Rest Break

Employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest break after every 4 hours of work. This break provides employees with a short window to relax and recharge during their workday.

Maine

Meal Break

No meal break is provided.

Rest Break

For employees who work 6 or more hours, a minimum of 30 minutes of unpaid rest break is typically provided. This rest break requirement applies only if there are three or more people on duty. During this break, employees can take time off from their duties to relax and recharge.

Maryland

Meal Break

No meal break is provided.

Rest Break

In the retail industry, employees are typically entitled to rest breaks. For shifts lasting 4-6 hours, a 15-minute rest break is provided. For shifts of 6 or more hours, a 30-minute rest break is given. Additionally, for an 8-hour shift, there is an extra 15-minute rest break, and for every additional 4 hours worked, an additional 15-minute rest break is provided.

Massachusetts

Meal Break

30 minutes unpaid for employees who work 6+ hours, excluding those in factory and mechanical establishments.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Minnesota

Meal Break

Sufficient unpaid time to eat a meal for employees who work 8+ hours. Must be paid if less than 20 minutes.

Rest Break

Sufficient time to use the restroom every 4 hours.

Nebraska

Meal Break

No meal break is provided.

Rest Break

At least 30 minutes per 8-hour shift for employees of an assembling plant, workshop, or mechanical establishment.

Nevada

Meal Break

At least 30 minutes for employees working 8+ continuous hours.

Rest Break

At least 10 minutes paid every 4 hours. If an employee’s total work time is less than 3 and a half hours, then this break is not typically not required.

New Hampshire

Meal Break

30 minutes for employees who work 5+ consecutive hours.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

New York

Meal Break

Employees who work for 6 or more hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. However, if their shift starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m., and they are midway through a 6+ hour shift, they receive a 45-minute meal break. Additionally, employees working a shift starting before 11 a.m. and continuing after 7 p.m. are given an additional 20-minute break between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Factory workers have different rules. They receive a 1-hour break between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for shifts lasting 6+ hours. If their shift starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m., they get a 60-minute break midway through their shift that exceeds 6 hours.

Rest Break

Employees are entitled to a consecutive 24-hour rest break per week.

North Dakota

Meal Break

30 minutes unpaid for employees who work 5+ hours when two or more employees are on duty.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Oregon

Meal Break

In Oregon, employees are entitled to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes per 6 hours worked. This break must be uninterrupted, where employees are relieved of all duties. No meal break is required for shifts that are under 6 hours in duration.

The number of meal breaks required varies based on the length of the shift:

  • For shifts lasting 6-14 hours, 1 meal break is required.
  • For shifts lasting 14-22 hours, 2 meal breaks are required.
  • For shifts lasting 22-24 hours, 3 meal breaks are required.

Rest Break

Oregon also mandates paid rest breaks based on the number of hours worked. Employees are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for each segment of hours worked. The required number of rest breaks is as follows:

  • For shifts of 2-6 hours, 1 rest break is required.
  • For shifts of 6-10 hours, 2 rest breaks are required.
  • For shifts of 10-14 hours, 3 rest breaks are required.
  • For shifts of 14-18 hours, 4 rest breaks are required.
  • For shifts of 18-22 hours, 5 rest breaks are required.
  • For shifts lasting 22-24 hours, 6 rest breaks are required.

Rhode Island

Meal Break

20 minutes for employees who work 6 hours and 30 minutes for employees who work 8+ hours. The break may be unpaid if the employee is relieved of all duties.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Tennessee

Meal Break

At least 30 minutes for employees who work 6+ hours

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Vermont

Meal Break

Must provide a “reasonable opportunity” for employees to eat and use the restroom. This opportunity must be paid if it is less than 20 minutes.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

Washington

Meal Break

Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for every 5 consecutive hours worked. This break should be provided no later than 5 hours from the beginning of the shift and not less than 2 hours into the shift.

Employees who work at least 3 hours past their regular shift end time are eligible for an additional 30-minute break. The meal break is unpaid if the employee is completely relieved of their duties during that time.

Rest Break

Employees are also entitled to at least a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked. These breaks offer employees a chance to relax and rejuvenate during their workday.

West Virginia

Meal Break

20 minutes for employees who work 6+ hours.

Rest Break

No rest break is provided.

How to calculate break time at work

Calculating break time at work is an essential task to make sure you’re compliant with labor laws and provide employees with the necessary rest periods. There are employee time tracking tools out there like Homebase to simplify the process and streamline your break time management.

Here’s how Homebase can help:

Automated break calculations

Homebase automatically calculates break time based on the specific regulations and requirements of your industry and location. With integrated timesheets, Homebase eliminates the need for manual calculations, reducing the chance of errors and ensuring accurate break durations for each employee.

Customizable break rules

With Homebase, you can set up customized breakx rules that align with your business needs and comply with applicable labor laws. You can define break durations, intervals, and any additional requirements unique to your industry or workforce.

Seamless scheduling integration

Homebase integrates break time seamlessly into the scheduling process. When creating employee schedules, you can easily assign and allocate break periods, ensuring that each employee receives their designated rest periods.

Time clock enforcement

Homebase enforces break time by tracking employee clock-ins and clock-outs. It provides real-time visibility into employee hours worked, ensuring compliance with break regulations and preventing unauthorized overtime.

Comprehensive reporting

Homebase generates detailed reports that summarize employee work hours and break times. These reports can serve as valuable documentation for audits, payroll and compliance purposes.

By using Homebase as your break time management solution, you can simplify the whole process, save time, and make sure your business is compliant with labor laws. With its user-friendly interface and robust features, you can create an efficient and compliant workplace.

A free time clock that frees up your time. 

Track hours. Prep for payroll. Control labor costs. All with our free time clock.
Try Homebase time clock

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