Updated October 21, 2020:

What Are Colorado Break Laws?

Colorado's break laws require employers to provide breaks for employees and to pay those workers for some of this time. Colorado break laws also require employers to provide employees with paid rest breaks and a meal break.

Under Colorado's break law, certain employers are required to provide a 30-minute meal break to employees who have worked at least five hours in the workday. Although a meal break for employees is required the law doesn't require an employer to pay for employee's meal breaks. For a meal break to qualify as an unpaid break, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties and must be free to engage in personal activities during this time.

Service employees who are covered for meal breaks in Colorado include the following:

  • Food and beverage workers
  • Commercial support service workers
  • Retail and service workers
  • Housekeeping employees
  • Dry cleaning employees
  • Medical and health facilities employees

Employees exempt from meal breaks include the following:

  • Teachers
  • Managers
  • Nurses
  • Administrative workers

Colorado law also states that employees are entitled to rest breaks. A 10-minute rest break must be given to an employee for each four-hour segment worked or for those who have worked what would factor out to be the major fraction of four hours.

Additionally, Colorado law stipulates that employers will pay employees for the 10-minute rest break. Employers should schedule rest breaks in the middle of the workday, if practical. Employers are allowed to make it mandatory that any employee taking a 10-minute break must stay on the work premises for the duration of their break time.

Lunch Break Laws

Lunch break laws are not required under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); however, many states set forth the amount of time that employers must provide employees for meals and breaks. While the FLSA doesn't provide information on lunch break laws, it does provide information on intermittent rest periods in which employers must offer paid rest periods for a certain amount of time if the employee works a certain amount of hours. Generally speaking, the allotted time is 10 minutes for every three to five hours worked. However, states can provide added rest periods for employees if they choose to do so.

What Is a Duty-Free Meal Break?

A duty-free meal break is one where the employee is relieved of all duties and is free to use the meal break for personal activities. In Colorado, the labor laws are clear about duty-free breaks, requiring that the employee be completely relieved of all responsibilities and work duties.

Although the law is clear about employees being free to pursue personal activities during a meal break, Colorado law does recognize that there are some situations where it may not be possible for employees to be completely relieved of their duties.

What Are Federal Break Laws?

Various organizations give their employees meal breaks, although it is not required under the law. While the law does require rest periods of between 10-20 minutes (must be paid), it doesn't provide requirements on lunch breaks. The FLSA is only strict in terms of providing such intermittent rest periods for certain hours worked. While states must abide by these requirements, most states have their own legal requirements in terms of lunch break periods.

Many of the stipulations surrounding breaks relate to what time actually counts as “hours worked.” Basically, the focus is on whether or not the employee is engaging in regular work duties. Federal law requires that an employee must be paid if they are completing work tasks and duties.

What people may not be aware of is that under federal law, employees do not have the right to take time off to eat lunch or other meals. The law also does not give employees the right to take rest breaks or short meal breaks during the workday. Regardless of federal law, employers can choose to provide meals or rest breaks for employees. This may be due to custom, policy, or the understanding that employees who are tired and hungry are not as effective at their jobs.

By federal law, two situations require employers to pay employees for hours worked. Federal law requires that employees be paid if they work through a meal or when taking a rest break. To qualify for meal or rest break pay, each break must last from 5 to 20 minutes. This time frame is considered part of the employee's workday.

An actual meal break is one that lasts for a minimum of 30 minutes. Depending on the circumstance, shorter break periods may also qualify for pay. Employers are not required to pay for actual meal breaks where the employees are relieved of all job duties and their time is their own.

Consider the following examples of employees engaged in typical work duties that must be paid as “working time.”

  • A receptionist who regularly eats lunch at her desk, but is still available to greet customers, wait for deliveries, and answer the phone.
  • Firefighters who play cards or watch television at a fire station while waiting for an emergency or alarm.
  • A repair professional who grabs a quick bite for lunch while in route from one job to the next.

An employer can decide that an employee may not be permitted to leave the work site during a meal break. However, the employee can take a break from completing work tasks. A typical meal break is designated to be at least 30 minutes in length. Short breaks may qualify, but it depends on the circumstances.

Meal breaks or lunch periods do not need to be paid and usually last 30 minutes or more. During this period, employees are free to spend the time how they wish. Remember, federal law does not legally require employers to allow employees breaks for rest.

What Is Colorado's Overtime Law?

The labor laws in Colorado require an employer to pay employees overtime unless there is an applicable exemption. Overtime occurs when an employee works over 40 hours within a workweek, 12 consecutive hours without regard to the workday, or more than 12 hours in a workday. The overtime rate for the extra hours worked is 1½ times an employee's regular pay rate.

Colorado law requires employers to pay overtime to employees unless any exemptions are applicable, such as in the Colorado Minimum Wage Order No. 30 regulation. Under Colorado labor law, employers must compensate employees for overtime at 1½ times the normal pay rate in the following circumstances:

  • When employees work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
  • When employees work more than 12 hours in a workday.
  • When employees work more than 12 consecutive hours.

What Are Colorado's Rules Regarding Deductions for Meals?

Colorado law permits employees to deduct meals from their paychecks if necessary. However, regulations require the common deduction to be at fair market value or at a reasonable cost. Employers may not attempt to financially gain profits from these meal deductions. In fact, the law states that any meal during an employee break time must be consumed before any deductions can be granted.

Are There Any Standards for “Breasting Breaks”?

Since 2010, federal law has made it possible for working mothers to breastfeed across the United States. By law, employers must provide a private place and a break for employees to pump breast milk during the workday. In Colorado, established law requires employers to provide an appropriate unpaid break time or allow the employee to use paid break or meal time to pump milk for up to two years following the birth of a child. To specify, Colorado law does not state anything specific with regards to breastfeeding mothers and any break benefits that they may have. Whatever the law mandates for any worker, also applies to employed nursing mothers.

What Laws Apply to Minors?

A few states have exceptional break rules for all minors; however, some states provide that minors are viewed as 15 and younger. For data on the state's break rules for minors, you should reach out to the state's office. At this time, in Colorado, there is no specific law that addresses minors in the workplace.

In Colorado, an employee who is considered a minor is entitled to the same benefits for their meals and rest breaks that are granted to adult employees. Under the Colorado Youth Employment Opportunity Act (CYEOA), a minor is considered any person under 18, except one who has received a passing score on a General Educational Development examination or has attained a high school diploma. Minors who are employed in Colorado receive the same break benefits that adult workers receive. There are no laws that grant special break privileges to a minor employee.

Minors are also not permitted to work too many hours per week, especially if they are students. This includes college students under the age of 18. Furthermore, some states even prohibit minors from working past a certain time, generally 10 p.m. on a school night. This can only be allowed if the parent(s) of the employee permits the employer to schedule the child past 10 p.m. During the summer months, however, the child does not have as many restrictions.

What Are Colorado's Rules Regarding Waiting?

It is important to note Colorado state rules regarding instances when employees are asked to wait. Colorado law states that wait time must be considered work time in the following circumstances:

  • An employee is “on-call” with restrictions that prevent him from engaging in personal activities or pursuits.
  • An employee is waiting between job duties during the course of a typical workday.

However, if an employee is able to perform personal activities away from the workplace with enough time to respond to calls, then this “wait time” may not be regarded as paid work hours.

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