Lunch Break Laws: Everything You Need to Know

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 with for meals and breaks. While the FLSA doesn’t provide information on lunch break laws, it does, in fact, provide information on intermittent rest periods in which employers must provide 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 3-5 hours worked; however, states can provide added rest periods for employees if they choose to do so.

Federal Law on Meals and Rest Breaks for Employees  

Various organizations give their employees meal breaks, although it is not required under the law. While the law does, in fact, 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.  

State Laws on Meal and Rest Breaks 

Some states require businesses to provide lunch breaks for employees for a certain amount of hours worked.  Further, some states even go as far as to prohibit businesses from providing such breaks too early in the day or too late in the day. This information can be found on that specific state’s Department of Labor website.  While some states have their own laws with respect to lunch and other types of breaks, those states that have no law must abide by the federal law. Further, if the state law is absent, employers can provide as many breaks and meal periods as they want to for their employees. Keep in mind, however, that there are certain requirements when hiring young workers, particularly those under the age of 18.

Laws by States 

  • Take, for example, the State of California. It requires that meal breaks must be offered after six hours of work. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin are additional states that incorporate their own laws for meal breaks.
  • In Connecticut and Delaware, if you work 7.5 hours, you are permitted a 30-minute lunch break after two hours of work. In Kentucky, you are given a 30-minute break between the third and fifth hour of work.
  • In Minnesota, you will be given extra breaks if you work over eight hours. In Nebraska, workers are permitted ½ hour breaks at a reasonable time, and it must be taken off premises.
  • In New Hampshire and North Dakota, employees are permitted 30-minute breaks for every five hours worked unless meal time can be utilized while working.
  • In New York, employees are provided a 30-minute meal period for every six hours worked.
  • In Oregon and New Mexico, employees are permitted ½ hour breaks. In Rhode Island, 20-minute breaks are to be taken for every six hours worked with 30 minutes provided for every eight hours worked.  
  • In Tennessee, employees are allowed a 30-minute break if working six or more hours; in Washington, a 30-minute meal period is allowed for five hours or more worked.
  • In West Virginia, employees with more than six back to back hours of work are permitted a 20-minute break. In Guam, ½ hour breaks are permitted following five hours, aside from when workday will be finished in six hours or less, and there is shared business/worker agreement to postpone the meal period.
  • In Puerto Rico, one-hour breaks are permitted after the third hour; however, it must be provided before the start of the sixth hour.
  • In New Jersey, employers must provide employees with a 30-minute meal period after working five consecutive hours.
  • In Colorado, employees are permitted to take a 30-minute meal period if working more than five hours. However, on-duty meal periods count as time worked.
  • In Illinois, a meal period of 20 minutes must be provided to employees working at least 7.5 hours in a row. Further, the meal period must be provided no later than the fifth hour worked.
  • In Maine, you are permitted to take a 30-minute meal period after working six consecutive hours; however, if an emergency arises, you can take a longer meal period.
  • In Maryland, you are permitted to take a 15-minute break for four to six consecutive hours worked. You can take a 30-minute break if working more than six consecutive hours, and an additional 15-minute break for every additional four consecutive hours worked over six hours. This rule specifically applies to retail establishments. In order to be qualified as a retail establishment, the employer must have a primary purpose of selling goods to consumers as well as employ 50 or more retail employees for each working day in each of the 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.    

In states and districts where there are no laws or related controls or rules for work breaks, the FLSA does indicate that it is up to the employer to use their discretion. With that being said, almost all employers do provide some sort of meal break or lunch period for employees after a certain number of hours are worked.

There are also specific laws in terms of the type of work being conducted. For example, if the work involving mining, those individuals will be provided with additional meal periods since the work is generally a lot more hands-on and manual.

New York requires a one-hour daily lunch period for assembly line employees working 12 or more days in a row. In Vermont, while it offers no specifics, it expresses that businesses must offer employees "sensible breaks" to rest, eat, and utilize the restroom throughout work hours.

For additional details of each state’s respective laws, you can visit the Department of Labor’s website. While most states have their own rules, employers can provided added benefits to its employees that go above and beyond the standard legal requirements for meal breaks and rest periods.

Different Rules Apply to Younger Workers

Various states expect managers to provide additional rest periods and meal breaks for minors, those under the age of 18.

  • Delaware expects managers to give a 30-minute meal break to employees who work no less than 7.5 hours; minors are qualified for a 30-minute break once they work five hours.
  • 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.  
  • 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 that minors work past a certain time, generally 10 p.m. on a school night. This can only be allowed if the parent(s) of the employee permit the employer to schedule the child past 10 p.m. During summer months, however, the child does not have as many restrictions.

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