Break and Meal Period Requirements by State

There are some employers regardless of the law that offer employees rest and meal breaks either paid or unpaid.  However, the federal wage and hour law, or the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), does not require that employers provide rest or meal breaks. In spite of this, a few states have decided to make their own laws.

The FLSA and Meal Breaks

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a law that requires employers to pay non-exempt employees for all the hours they work. This includes demanding that an employer pays an employee for time worked while on an already agreed meal or lunch break, even if that time is not supposed to be paid.

If an employee works throughout a lunch break that is normally unpaid, an employer might be told to pay out extra wages, such as unintended overtime, to the employee.

Employers may implement policies which stop employees from working throughout unpaid lunch breaks or meal periods, like telling employees to eat their lunch away from their work area, so they are not inadvertently held responsible for paying employees throughout that time.

Under State Laws There Are Rules and Regulations for Lunch and Breaks

Depending on the state you work in there are different laws regarding payments for lunch and other breaks.  There is one requirement that is statewide which states that if the break lasts 20 minutes or less and because it is a short break it is considered to be a part of your work day, it has to be paid for.

In addition, if you are required to work while you eat, for example, you have to answer the phone, or wait for a delivery, you have the right to be paid for that time. Some states require that employers allow younger workers to take rest or meal breaks.

In states where adult workers are allowed breaks, the rules for minors are often stricter. Delaware, for example, requires that employers provide a 30 minute meal break to those employees who work at least 7.5 hours, while minors get a 30-minute break.

As an example, California wage and hour laws typically require that employers provide non-exempt workers with a meal time that lasts at least thirty minutes and that is if they work more than five hours consecutively.

If the employee works 10 hours then s/he should get another meal period of the same duration. The first meal break must follow no more than 5 hours of work. The 2nd meal period must take place no later than after the 10th hour of work.

Can I Sue My Employer For Not Giving Me Breaks?

This is only possible using federal laws if your employer has made you work through what has been determined as an unpaid break. However, if you are in California, for example, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer if it has violated the California meal and rest break laws.

One of the penalties for violating California state law is the employer must pay one additional hour of usual pay for every workday on which a violation occurred. If you are working in a state that offers breaks without pay you should contact your local labor department if a violation has occurred.

How an Employment Lawyer Can Help

If you think you have been subject to wage theft by your employer you should contact an attorney. An employment lawyer will know what the break laws are in your state and if your employer has violated its state’s laws. This is called wage theft because you have worked when you should have had a break.

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