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Q. Dear Staffing Success, Does an employee have to take a lunch break?
 
- Interstate Employer
 
A: Dear Interstate Employer, According to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal law does not require coffee or lunch breaks. However, when employers do offer breaks (e.g. coffee or snack breaks; also called ‘rest periods’) of 5 to 20 minutes, federal law considers the breaks work time that must be paid. Bona fide meal periods (e.g. lunch breaks) lasting 30 minutes or more are different from coffee or snack breaks. Bona fide meal periods are not considered as part of the employee’s work time and therefore fall outside the employees’ paid work hours.  On the state level, only seven states (namely, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) require rest periods. These states’ requirements are outlined in the table below. Since laws and regulations regarding breaks vary widely from state to state, we suggest you contact the departments of labor for each state in which you have employees.
           
From a Human Resources point of view, it is recommended that an employee working an eight-hour workday or longer be allowed a bona fide meal period that is at least 30 minutes long every four hours. Experts found that employees who are given lunch breaks are generally more alert and productive. - Staffing Success

Minimum Rest Period Requirements Under State Law for Employees in Private Sector

Basic Standard
Prescribed By:
Comments
California Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4 hours worked or major fraction thereof; as practicable, in middle of each work period. Not required for employees whose total daily work time is less than 3 1/2 hours. Administratively issued Industrial Welfare Commission Orders. Uniform application to industries under 15 Orders, including agriculture and household employment.
Excludes professional actors, sheepherders under Agricultural Occupations Order, and personal attendants under Household Occupations Order.
Additional interim rest periods required in motion picture industry during actual rehearsal or shooting for swimmers, dancers, skaters or other performers engaged in strenuous physical activity. Under all Orders, except for private household employment, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement may grant exemption upon employer application on the basis of undue hardship, if exemption would not materially affect welfare or comfort of employees.
Colorado Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period or major fraction thereof; as practicable, in middle of each work period. Administratively issued Wage Order for 7 industries. Applicable to retail trade, food and beverage, public housekeeping, medical profession, beauty service, laundry and dry cleaning and janitorial service industries. Excludes certain occupations, such as teacher, nurse, and other medical professionals.
Kentucky Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period Statute Excludes employees under the Federal Railway Labor Act. Rest period must be in addition to regularly scheduled meal period.
Minnesota Paid adequate rest period within each 4 consecutive hours of work, to utilize nearest convenient restroom. Statute Excludes certain agricultural and seasonal employees. Different rest breaks permitted if pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.
Nevada Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4 hours worked or major fraction thereof; as practicable, in middle of each work period. Not required for employees whose total daily work time is less than 3 1/2 hours. Statute Applicable to employers of two or more employees at a particular place of employment. Excludes employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Labor Commissioner may grant exemption on employer evidence of business necessity.
Oregon Paid 15-minute rest period for every 4-hour segment or major portion thereof in one work period; as feasible, approximately in middle of each segment of work period. Administratively issued Wage and Hour Commission rules. Applicable to every employer, except in agriculture and except employees covered by collective bargaining agreement. Rest period must be in addition to usual meal period and taken separately; not to be added to usual meal period or deducted from beginning or end of work period to reduce overall length of total work period. In absence of regularly scheduled rest periods, it is sufficient compliance when employer can show that the employee has, in fact, received the time specified (permitted only where employer can show that ordinary nature of the work prevents employer from establishing and maintaining a regularly scheduled rest period). Rest period is not required for employees age 18 or older who work alone in a retail or service establishment serving the general public and who work less than 5 hours in a period of 16 continuous hours.
Washington Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period, scheduled as near as possible to midpoint of each work period. Employee may not be required to work more than 3 hours without a rest period. Administrative regulation Excludes newspaper vendor or carrier, domestic or casual labor around private residence, sheltered workshop, and agricultural labor. 3/* Scheduled rest periods not required where nature of work allows employee to take intermittent rest periods equivalent to required standard. Director of Labor and Industries may grant variance from basic standard for good cause, upon employer application.

FOOTNOTES*
1/ States not listed do not require rest periods. All of the seven States with rest period requirements also have meal period requirements.
2/ Not displayed in table are exemptions for executive, administrative and professional employees, and for outside salespersons.
3/ Washington State. Although agricultural labor is excluded from the listed requirement of general application, a separate regulation requires a paid 10-minute rest period in each 4-hour period of agricultural employment.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, Division of External Affairs December 1, 2001

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