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Meals and Rest Breaks: What You Need to Know

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Many employers offer meals and rest breaks for their staff working over a certain number of hours. But what does the federal and state laws say about meals and break times?


What is the Federal Law Regarding Meals and Rest Breaks? 

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), federal law does not require meals and rest breaks. However, according to the DOL, it is compensable work if your company does give any rest breaks less than 20 minutes. The total hours worked should include rest break times. You should give overtime with rest break times included. 

Furthermore, you should document any break time extensions or requests as well. Communicate that any extension of break time is against company policy, unless they receive their manager’s approval. 

Work time does not include meal periods (usually 30-minute breaks). Federal law does not consider them compensable. Additionally, include this policy in your company handbook.

Each state is different regarding meals and rest breaks. We will discuss a few states and their laws. 


Are Meals and Rest Breaks Covered by State Law?

Even though federal law states you don’t have to provide breaks or meals, state laws may differ. In this case you should always follow your state law if they do require these breaks. 

Some states require employees to take a 30-minute meal break if they work more than five or six hours a day. Ensure you pay employees who have to work while eating.

Below are some states that require meal and rest break laws. Research your state if it is not included below. 


California

  • If an employee works more than 5 hours a day, their meal time should be 30-minutes. If their work period is complete in 6 hours you can mutually agree to waive the meal period. Also, if they work during their meal period, there should be a written agreement between the employer and employee. The employee can cancel this at any time. 
  • An employee must have a second meal period (30-minutes) if they work more than 10 hours a day. However, if the second meal period is less than 12 hours, the second meal may be waived by mutual consent if the first meal was not waived. 
  • Employees must be given a minimum of 10 consecutive minutes for each four hours worked for rest breaks
  • If the employer fails to provide a meal period, they must pay one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate (not overtime). 

There may be additional rules for those with collective bargaining agreements. 


Florida

There is no state law regarding meals or rest breaks for Florida. They do not have to provide meals and rest breaks. However, they do have provisions for meal periods for minors. Minor employees are to receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break every 4 hours.

Many Florida employers do offer meal and rest breaks. If they do, as stated in federal law, they are required to pay employees for rest breaks (20 minutes or less).  


Michigan

There is no state law regarding meal or rest breaks for Michigan. Likewise, if an employer does offer these breaks, they are required to follow the same federal laws. They must pay employees for rest breaks which are 20 minutes or less. 

Michigan does have provisions for minors as well. Employees under the age of 18 may not work more than 5 hours without a documented 30-minute uninterrupted break. Daily time records should reflect their start times, end times, and their 30-minute unpaid meal time. 



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New York

A meal break must be provided to employees. However, New York does not require a rest break. Their laws depend on the industry and the shift. 

  • Factory employees should receive a 1-hour noon day break period between 11am and 2pm. 
  • For all other businesses, New York law requires a 30-minute break period between 11am and 2pm for those who work shifts over 6 hours or more. 
  • Employers should give an additional 20 minutes between 5pm and 7pm for those employed between 11am and 7pm. 
  • If an employee works more than six hours between 1pm and 6am, the employee should be given a meal break in the middle of the shift. Factory employees get 1 hour, and all other employees get 45 minutes for break.


Texas

There is no state law for Texas to require breaks. However, if an employer does offer these breaks, they are required to follow the federal law. They must pay employees for rest breaks which are 20 minutes or less.


Is it Illegal to Work 6 Hours Without a Lunch Break?

Although we answered some states above, it is important to follow whatever policy you have written in your employee handbook as well as the law. Also, if you state you will give a lunch break, give lunch breaks. 

If you state an employee must take a meal break in your policy, they should take a meal break. If an employee works through their meal, you should make sure you have written documentation (e.g., email) that shows their agreement they worked through their meal break. They should be paid for any time working.

You will be held accountable for your policies in your employee handbook. It is like a contract, and you should always ensure you have proper documentation. 

Treat all employees equally and communicate your policies clearly. If you give exceptions to any policy, you should also document those exceptions.


How Can You Keep Up with Proper Documentation for Meals and Rest Breaks?
The best way to document time properly is with a reliable time keeping system such as ezClocker. Consider investing in a system like ezClocker to track work time, breaks, create schedules, and enter notes regarding absences. Your employees will see this as well. It is a well-documented source of information. Also, employees can clock in and out from anywhere if they are working off-site as well. 

One great feature that ezClocker offers is automatic break where if an employee doesn’t take a break the system will automatically deduct up to 30 minutes from total time. You can set the option by checking the Enable Automatic Breaks box and setting the duration of the break and when it will be added. If the employee doesn’t take a break as required then the application will deduct up to 30 minutes of meal/break time.

automatic breaks for employees


Final Thoughts on Meals and Rest Breaks

Even if state and federal law may not require meals and rest breaks, providing these will help your employees recharge and are a nice benefit. However, you should always document exceptions to any policy or law. If they don’t follow policy or law, you should document that as well. 

Some employees do not want to take meal breaks because they want the money. If your state requires them, you should enforce that in your policies. However, exceptions can occur. It is important to talk to an attorney about how to handle any exceptions and how to document that.  

There are other breaks that your state may require such as for nursing mothers or for those in different industries. It is important to research everything you should offer your employees in your state. 

Consider getting rid of paper timesheets and investing in a system that tracks attendance. Whatever system you choose, think about one that offers everything you need. 

Finally, write any policy clearly in your employee handbook and ensure your employees understand your policies. 


best-time-clock-app-gps

Author: Kimberley Kay Travis

Kim Travis, co-owner of Travis and Adams Consulting Group, has over 20 years’ experience in human resources and leadership roles. She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, leadership development, manufacturing safety programs, and writing business articles and blogs.

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