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 the forthcoming Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance.
Updated to include information on a California Court of Appeal ruling concerning on-duty meal breaks.
Updated to reflect amendments to the show-up time / reporting time law, effective July 19, 2019.
Updated to reflect requirements regarding breastfeeding breaks, effective July 28, 2019.
Updated to reflect amendments to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act regarding breastfeeding breaks, effective June 27, 2019.
Updated to reflect forthcoming amendments to the breastfeeding breaks law.
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 the forthcoming Philadelphia Fair Workweek Ordinance.
HR Guidance on complying with federal and state requirements governing employee meal and rest breaks.