Is My Employer Required to Give Me Meal or Break Time?

posted by Scott Behren  |  Jun 4, 2010 8:10 PM [EST]  |  applies to Florida

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 The general answer, under Federal law, is no. However some states have their own rest or lunch break statutes for employees, which as of the posting of this blog, include: California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin. Each of these laws vary as to what type of break must be provided and to whom they must be provided so take a look at the relevant laws for your state.

Those of you who don't have an applicable state law, do not fret. Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), If your employer does have a policy of giving rest breaks of about 20 minutes or less, must pay employees for their time while on such work breaks.

In other words, the FLSA does not require employers to give rest breaks of any length. But, if employers give short rest breaks anyway, under the FLSA the work breaks are counted as time for which employers must pay employees. If authorized rest breaks extend work hours into overtime, under the FLSA employers must pay the overtime to eligible employees.


Under the FLSA, if employers do give meal breaks voluntarily, they do not have to pay employees while they're on such work breaks. However, the breaks must be bona fide meal breaks for employers to be relieved of break pay.

For example, an employer who voluntarily offers a daily meal break by policy, but who does not pay employees while they're on their meal break, must allow employees to take the whole break without working. Otherwise, it is not a bona fide meal break under the FLSA. Instead, it counts as work time, for which the employer must pay employees.

In other words, employers can't simply label work breaks as meal, dinner or lunch breaks to evade paying employees while they're on such breaks. Employers must allow employees to take meal breaks free of work duties.

One interesting issue that has arisen lately is with regard to "smart time clocks" which automatically deduct from an employees time card a thirty minute lunch break, whether you take it or not and whether you work through lunch or not. If your employer is automatically taking out your lunch break and you are either not taking the lunch or working through the lunch, then your employer needs to pay you for this time and include it in overtime calculations.

If your employer is violating any of these rules, go seek the assistance of an employment law attorney, or the U.S. Department of Labor.

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