Meal Periods and Rest Periods

The FLSA does not require an employer to provide meal periods or rest breaks for their employees. Many employers, however, do provide breaks and/or meal periods. Breaks of short duration, from 5 to 20 minutes, are common. As a general rule, rest breaks are considered hours worked and employees must be compensation for the rest breaks.  Bona fide meal periods where the employee is completely relieved from duty for at least 30 minutes are not considered hours worked and may be uncompensated.

Some states do have laws requiring rest breaks and/or meal periods. Such state requirements will prevail over the silence of the FLSA on this subject. In those situations where an employee is subject to both the FLSA and state labor laws, the employee is entitled to the most beneficial provisions of each law.

For example, a private sector employee employed in a particular state is entitled, by state law, to a paid 10 minute rest break for each 4 hour work period. The employee working in that state is entitled to the rest break, even though the FLSA does not require rest breaks.

Breaks

Breaks from 5 to 20 minutes must be counted as hours worked.

Even though they are not required by the FLSA, if an employer permits employees to take breaks, they must be counted as hours worked. This includes short periods the employee is allowed to spend away from the work site for any reason.

For example:
  • smoke breaks,
  • restroom breaks,
  • personal telephone calls or visits, or
  • to get coffee or soft drinks, etc.
Note, however, that your employer need not count unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously advised you that the break may only last for a specific length of time and that any extension of the break is contrary tot eh employer’s rules and will be punished. 
To determine whether a break of more than 20 minutes is hours worked, or for more information on breaks in general, contact an attorney.

Meal Periods

In order for your meal period to be uncompensated it must be at least 30 minutes long (a shorter period may be long enough under special conditions) and you must be completely relieved from duty. 
You are not completely relieved from duty if you are required to perform any duties or do any work while eating. This includes inactive or active work.

For example:
  • An office employee who is required to eat at his or her desk is not relieved from duty if he or she is required to answer the telephone or respond to customers, even if no calls are actually received.
  • A factory worker who is required to watch his or her machine while eating is working and not completely relieved from duty.
It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he or she is completely relieved from duty during the meal period.

An additional meal period exception applies to firefighters working in the public sector who have a tour of duty of fewer than 24 hours or exactly 24 hours.