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woman-breakAs a full-time or part-time employee, 20 minute breaks and lunch breaks are generally thought to be required by law, which is not entirely the case. According to the United States Department of Labor, federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks, anywhere between 5 to 20 minutes, federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and considered in determining if overtime was worked.

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Additionally, extended breaks not authorized by the employer “need not be counted as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished.” Alternatively, bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes), serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, thus, are not work time and are not compensable.

Employers must follow state laws when it comes to setting company rules for standard breaks and times allocated for lunch periods since they are not mandated by the Fair Labor and Standards Act. As depicted in this chart on the Department of Labor’s website, each state standard is different. Currently only eight states require paid rest and lunch breaks. These states include California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Though federal and state laws may not require breaks and/or paid time for taking said breaks and lunch, many companies and employers still may allow employees to take them. If you work in a state which does not require breaks or meal periods, these benefits are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee’s representative). Full-time and salaried employees, especially on the management level and higher, tend not to be scrutinized or policed heavily regarding how many breaks are taken and when they are away for lunch.

This is often times the case because they are attempting to consistently prove themselves to be trust-worthy, accountable and dependable employees and therefore are sometimes riddled with guilt or an unspoken “requirement” that they work through any breaks and/or lunch.

As posted on USlegal.com, here is a summary of the individual state lunch labor laws. Note that not all industries are required to comply with these regulations in each state:

California – 1/2 hour after 5 hours worked, unless shift is only 6 hours

Colorado – 1/2 hour after 5 hours worked, unless shift is only 6 hours

Connecticut – if shift is 7.5 hours, 1/2 hour lunch after first 2 hours but before last 2 hours

Delaware – if shift is 7.5 hours, 1/2 hour lunch after first 2 hours but before last 2 hours

Illinois – required for hotel room attendants only

Kentucky – reasonable meal period between 3rd and 5th hour of shift

Maine – 1/2 hour after 6 consecutive hours

Massachusetts – 1/2 hour, if work is more than 6 hours

Minnesota – reasonable period, if shift is 8+ consecutive hours

Nebraska – 1/2 hour, off premises, at suitable lunch time

Nevada – 1/2 hour, if work is 8 consecutive hours

New Hampshire – 1/2 hour, after 5 consecutive hours – unless employee can eat while working

New York – 1/2 hour, if shift is more than 6 hours

North Dakota – 1/2 hour, if work is more than 5 hours

Oregon – 1/2 hour

Rhode Island – 20 minutes for 6 hour shift; 30 minutes for 8 hour shift

Tennessee – 1/2 hour, if shift is 6 hours

Washington – 1/2 hour, for 5 hour shift

West Virginia – 20 minutes, if work is more than 6 consecutive hours

Wisconsin- ½ hour after 6 consecutive hours’ work

New Mexico- ½ hour

Guam- ½ hour, after 5 hours, except when workday will be completed in 6 hours or less and there is mutual employer/employee consent to waive meal period. Time worked is not considered unless nature of work prevents relief from duty.

Puerto Rico- 1 hour, after end of 3rd but before beginning of 6th consecutive hour worked. Double-time pay required for work during meal hour or fraction thereof.

Are you getting the breaks you need?

Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com . She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 10 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.

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