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 amendments to the breastfeeding breaks law, effective January 1, 2020.
Updated to reflect the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, effective January 1, 2020.
Updated to reflect a change in the Philadelphia Fair Workweek Ordinance's implementation date.
McDonald's has settled a wage theft class action that accused the fast-food chain of underpaying 38,000 workers at its California restaurants by failing to give them adequate rest breaks and denying overtime pay.
Having an employee handbook that prohibits employees from working during meal periods is not enough for Oregon employers to avoid liability, the Oregon Court of Appeals held in Maza v. Waterford Operations.
Updated to reflect information on an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling concerning meal breaks.
Updated to reflect the forthcoming Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance.
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.
HR Guidance on complying with federal and state requirements governing employee meal and rest breaks.