Meal and Rest Breaks


*Updated with video – see below*

Employers are often confused about whether or not they are required to give their employees breaks, how long the breaks have to be, if they must be paid, and when they are supposed to happen.  Hopefully this week’s tip will answer all those questions.

Federal law as set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to provide their employees with any breaks whatsoever, not even a lunch break.  The only thing that federal law says is that if rest breaks are given to employees and are less than 20 minutes in duration they must be paid.  It also says that meal breaks that are at least 30 minutes in duration and are provided “free and clear” to the employee (meaning the employee is not working while eating) are not considered work time and do not have to be paid.

If you read the preceding paragraph carefully you might be wondering what happens if the break is longer than 20 minutes but shorter than 30 minutes.  According to section 31a01(b)of the Field Operations Handbook  if the break is a rest break and it’s longer than 20 minutes and the employee can use the time to do what he/she wants then anything over 20 minutes would not be considered work time. However,  according to section 31b23, if the break is a meal break and it’s less than 30 minutes then the break has to meet several criteria in order to be unpaid if it’s between 21-29 minutes.

In addition to the information given above if you operate in a state that has state specific meal and rest break regulations AND you are covered by your state regulations then there is more information to consider.   In order to determine if your state has state specific meal and rest break regulations check out these two links provided by the U.S. Department of Labor:  state specific meal break regulations and state specific rest break regulations.

For example, the state of Colorado requires that covered employers give their employees a 30 minute (unpaid) meal break after 5 consecutive hours of work and a paid 10 minute break for every 4 hours of work.

The most common violations associated with rest and meal breaks are deducting pay for rest breaks and deducting automatic lunch breaks of 30 minutes when employees are not actually taking them.

Check out our YouTube video on this topic!

We hope you found this week’s tip helpful and informative. Please pass it along to anyone you think might be at risk as a result of not complying with meal and rest break regulations. Follow us on facebook to get the next Tip of the Week on your newsfeed!


–      By Kalen Fraser

The Labor Brain Inc. is not a law firm and its employees do not practice law or provide legal services.  The information provided on our website,  in email correspondence with representatives of The Labor Brain, and at outreach events is for informational and educational purposes only.  The information provided is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.