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 a US Department of Labor (DOL) opinion letter concerning civic or charitable work.
Updated to reflect amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law involving breastfeeding breaks, effective March 18, 2019.
Updated to reflect the Baltimore lactation ordinance, effective March 13, 2019.
Updated to reflect information on a California Court of Appeal ruling concerning show-up time / reporting time.
Updated to reflect forthcoming breastfeeding break requirements in Baltimore, Maryland.
Updated to reflect the forthcoming Philadelphia Fair Workweek Ordinance.
Updated guidance to reflect amendment allowing meal break exceptions for certain commercial drivers, effective January 1, 2019.
Updated to reflect an amendment to the breastfeeding breaks law, effective August 21, 2018.
Updated to reflect a forthcoming amendment regarding meal breaks in California.
HR Guidance on complying with federal and state requirements governing employee meal and rest breaks.