Determine If an Employee Must Be Paid for Rest Breaks

Key Points

  • Federal law does not require that employers provide rest breaks, but many states do.
  • Employees must be paid during most rest breaks. If an employer opts to permit short breaks of five to 20 minutes, such as smoking breaks or water-cooler breaks, the employees generally must be paid during that time.
  • The standards for unpaid rest breaks are more ambiguous than those for unpaid meal breaks. For rest breaks to be unpaid, employees must be completely relieved from duty and the break must be long enough to enable them to use the time effectively for their own purposes. The employees must definitely be told in advance that they may leave the job and that they will not have to commence work until a definitely specified hour has arrived.

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