Meal and Rest Breaks

What are meal and rest breaks?

Meal and rest breaks are specific examples of employee breaks. A break is a period of time during work hours in which an employee is allowed to stop performing their job duties. There are several different types of breaks. They vary in length and may or may not require the employee to clock out. A meal break is generally longer than a short break. Most US employers allow hourly workers to take a lunch or dinner break from 30 minutes to an hour. Most salaried workers are also allowed to take a meal break from 30 to 60 minutes.

When an hourly employee is required to clock out, it is called an unpaid break. If an employee is allowed to remain clocked in during a break, it is called a paid break. Federal, state, and local laws as well as union contracts and corporate policy govern when breaks are required.

Can an unpaid break be interrupted with a work-related question?

An employee must be able to discontinue all work duties during a meal break. Otherwise, the employer must pay the employee for the time. For example, a customer service rep who must take calls while eating a sandwich at her desk must be paid for the time—even if she only takes one short call.

What laws govern meal and rest breaks?

Many states have their own meal break laws. These generally have a higher (or different) standard than Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provisions. To see lunch break laws by state: Minimum Breaks for Meals by State.

How do I ensure compliance with meal and break laws?

Make sure you know the laws governing your locations. Then use your HR management system, employee timekeeping, and intelligent timeclocks to enforce breaks. Simply set compliance rules based on federal, state, and local law plus any additional company policies. You can set the rate of pay and length of break for different classes of employees and configure for specific industry provisions.

How do meal and rest breaks affect overtime calculation?

Paid breaks have implications for workers who are subject to overtime protections. (These are sometimes called non-exempt employees). The time an employee spends taking short breaks counts toward total weekly hours for overtime calculation. Meal breaks—generally lasting 30 minutes or more—may be unpaid. In other words, employers may require workers to clock out during meal breaks. As such, unpaid meal breaks do not count toward total hours for overtime requirements.

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