Overview: Federal law does not require employers to provide employees meal or rest breaks. But several states have laws that require employers to offer meal and/or rest breaks.
Employers that do provide meal or rest breaks generally must pay employees for that time, unless they:
Employers often are tripped up on the requirement that employees must be completely relieved from duty for a meal or rest break to be unpaid. So, if an employee performs even the slightest bit of work during a break, such as answering a phone call, the employee must then be paid for the entire break time.
Trends: Many employers are reconsidering their policies of automatically deducting time for meal or rest breaks from employee paychecks in the wake of of lawsuits by employees who claimed they were actually working during the breaks.
Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor
Updated to reflect an amendment regarding rest breaks, effective September 13, 2017.
Updated to reflect an amendment regarding rest breaks in Maine, effective September 13, 2017.
Updated guidance to reflect amendments clarifying the use of unpaid meal breaks, effective November 1, 2017.
Updated to reflect recent rulings and regulations concerning home care aides.
Updated to reflect expanded protections under the Nevada Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act, effective October 1, 2017.
Updated to reflect forthcoming working time requirements under the employee work scheduling law.
Enhanced statement with information relating to employees' rights during rest breaks.
Updated to reflect information on a Washington Supreme Court ruling clarifying employer liability for meal break violations.
Updated to reflect forthcoming San Francisco law regarding lactation accommodation.
HR Guidance on complying with federal and state requirements governing employee meal and rest breaks.