Every employee needs time to recharge during the workday. Meal breaks and rest periods are not required at the federal level, but some states do mandate breaks for lunch and rest after an employee works a certain number of hours. It is important to know the labor laws that apply to your state and workplace. Employers operating in states without mandatory meal or rest periods must still follow certain rules when these breaks are taken.
Our team at Fair Labor Law is committed to helping employees throughout the United States understand their rights in the workplace. We are familiar with each state’s labor laws and can advise whether you are entitled to meal or rest breaks. No matter your situation, our meal period and rest break dispute lawyer can provide you with meticulous legal representation if you are not being lawfully compensated for your time as a result of break exploitation. We can assist you with preparing and filing a claim and will work diligently to secure the maximum available compensation.
Federal law does not explicitly require employers to provide employees with rest breaks. Several states require mandatory rest breaks after a certain number of hours, while others require reasonable time for restroom visits.
In practice, nearly all employers will provide employees with rest breaks. When an authorized break is brief – generally twenty minutes or less – employers must compensate employees for their time. This break time must also count toward total hours worked and overtime calculations. These types of short breaks will generally cover things like restroom visits, coffee refills, or just taking a breather between tasks. An employer cannot refuse to pay you for any authorized break that lasts less than twenty minutes.
The only exception to this rule occurs when an employer explicitly communicates the maximum length of time a break can last. For example, an employer may establish a policy that a single authorized break cannot last more than ten minutes. Should an employee take a break for fifteen minutes in this scenario, their employer will only need to compensate them for ten of those minutes.
Breaks – unauthorized or not – that last thirty minutes or more do not generally require compensation under federal law. They also do not need to be counted toward total hours worked or overtime calculations.
Your employer must honor all state laws mandating regular rest breaks. Most of these laws will involve taking a ten-minute break after working for a certain number of hours in a single workday. You may not be required to work during or “skip” a mandatory rest break, even if the workplace is busy. If you are denied, required to work through, or are not appropriately compensated for a state-required rest break, your rights have likely been violated. Our meal period and rest break dispute attorney can evaluate your case and advise how to move forward.
Employers are not required to offer meal periods to employees at the federal level. Twenty states currently mandate meal periods after a certain number of hours have been worked in a single workday.
Unfortunately, if you are located in a state that does not mandate meal periods, you do not necessarily have many legal options if your boss refuses to provide you with a lunch or dinner break. Like with rest breaks, however, most employers will allow meal periods when employees work longer shifts.
A meal period will generally last thirty minutes or more. Meal periods are unpaid – even when mandatory under state law – and do not contribute to total hours worked and overtime calculations.
An employer cannot require you to “work through” an unpaid meal period. If you work at all during your meal period, you are entitled to compensation for that time, and the period should be counted toward your total hours worked and overtime calculations.
When a meal period is mandatory under state law, your employer cannot deny you the extended break. The laws vary by state, and in some cases, you may be able to decline to take your meal period if you are only working a certain number of hours. Generally, you will be required to take an unpaid meal period if you are working for an extended amount of time.
Employers also cannot regulate your time during a mandatory unpaid meal break. They cannot require you to remain on the premises or insist that you be “on-call” to handle emergencies. You cannot be asked or required to work at all during the unpaid period.
Meal Period and Rest Break Rules for “Exempt” Employees and Independent Contractors
In some states, “exempt” salaried workers are not subject to state-level mandatory meal period and rest break rules. Only employees that meet each state’s definition for what constitutes an “exempt” employee can circumvent these labor regulations. Generally, an exempt employee must make a certain rate and serve in an administrative, professional, or executive-level capacity.
Unscrupulous employers will sometimes deliberately misclassify salaried employees in these states to avoid having to provide them with mandatory meal and rest breaks. We can assist with these types of misclassification issues.
Independent contractors are also not typically entitled to paid rest breaks or unpaid meal breaks under applicable state laws. Independent contractors are supposed to function as their own bosses and can theoretically take breaks whenever they choose. In some cases, employers will misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid having to follow mandatory meal or rest break rules and other labor laws. Our legal team is ready to assist you if you believe you may have been misclassified as an independent contractor.
Using Reasonable Accommodations to Secure Breaks
Pregnant employees, employees with disabilities, employees with sincerely held religious beliefs have the legal right to request reasonable accommodations from their employer. Reasonable accommodations can be requested in any state, and your request might include regular and scheduled break times to rest and/or pray. If scheduled breaks resulting from reasonable accommodation requests each last twenty minutes or less, they must generally be paid and count toward overtime calculations.
Employers throughout the United States are legally required to consider and negotiate reasonable accommodation requests in good faith. If your employer refuses to review your request, your rights may have been violated. An employer can only deny a reasonable accommodation if the request constitutes an “undue burden.” Many employers may consequently claim any sort of request – including those involving meal periods or rest breaks – represents an undue burden.
Our meal period and rest break dispute lawyer can help you navigate reasonable accommodation requests and secure the scheduled time you need and deserve. Our team at Fair Labor Law is also prepared to assist you with any situation where you are not being allotted or appropriately compensated for mandatory or non-mandatory breaks. We can help you file a claim with the relevant agency and work to recover the compensation you deserve.
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