Do Employees Have to Take a Mandatory Meal and Rest Break? -
10 min read
February 18, 2021

Do Employees Have to Take a Mandatory Meal and Rest Break?

If anything is to go by, meal and rest breaks constitute an essential part of your employees' daily routine. They're the foundational blocks for their mental and physical well-being.

According to proofhub, a properly structured employee break time can improve productivity in your organization as it allows workers to rest and refuel their bodies for the next work phase.  As an employer, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't force you to provide your workers with meal and rest breaks. However, your state can, depending on its current labor laws.

Let's take a look at the nitty-gritties surrounding employee break time depending on the US's various state laws. Shall we?

Meal and Rest Breaks Overview

First off, due to a lack of a well-defined federal law or FLSA intervention regarding meal and rest breaks in the US. Different states have taken the matter into their own hands while others haven't taken considerable action. 

 A closer look at the issue highlights several things:

Some states advocate for paid rests, i.e., they require employers to pay their workers during their resting hours.

Others require an employee to continue working within their break periods for them to be paid. Or the break should be less than twenty minutes for it to be considered part of the workday.

Different states have their own maximum hours an employee needs to work before given a break.

  1.      State Laws on Meal Breaks

As a business owner--in the US--you might be exempted from providing your workers with meal breaks since less than half the states advocate for them.  On the other hand, you may as well allow them in your organization out of compassion or necessity. 

However, if your organization is located in a state that stipulates compulsory meal breaks for employees, then you must observe the following conditions:

  • A mandatory thirty minutes meal breaks for employees working 5 to 6 hours at a time.

Depending on your state, these periods might not suffice anywhere near the start or end of your employees' work shift.

  • If workers have been completely relieved of all their work duties, they aren't supposed to claim paid breaks.

On the other hand, if they continue working while on their meal breaks--for instance, by keeping vigil or taking telephone calls, then you must compensate them.

The US department of labor provides you with a comprehensive list of the state laws on meal breaks.

2.      State Laws on Rest Breaks

Similarly, many states may not require you to provide rest breaks to your workers. But if your state law demands so, then you'll be forced to provide ten-minute rest breaks after every four hours that are fully paid for.

Alternatively, you can allow your employees to choose between rest breaks and meal breaks or the option of being given enough time to utilize the restrooms.

Other than that, some states may require you to follow specific guidelines when dealing with minors, such as employees below eighteen years and those under fifteen years.

A point to note is that your employees can file a lawsuit if you deny them the legally required breaks--which isn't funny, though, as you may have to pay a hefty penalty.

Therefore, strive to be on the know-how regarding the various meal and rest breaks by state. An entire list of the state rest break laws can also be acquired from the department of labor.

How many hours can an employee work without a break?

According to the US department of labor, the maximum number of hours an employee can work without a rest break varies from state to state. For example, Connecticut stipulates thirty minutes after the initial two hours and before the last two hours for workers whose shift surpasses seven and a half consecutive hours.

On the other hand, twenty minutes after the first five hours for employees working for more than seven and half hour shifts in Illinois.

That said, we have some particular types of breaks that might not necessarily follow the provided law. Such include health-related breaks, whereby you'll be required to provide time off to employees requiring medical attention.

For instance, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 revised the FLSA to allow nursing mothers' adequate time to express milk while on duty. 

Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 takes care of the disabled, while Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 caters to religious organizations.

Acting against any of the three could land you in trouble. 

What states require lunch breaks?

Certainly, as a business owner, you'd be obliged out of courtesy to provide your employees with Meal times--especially lunch breaks, to allow them to replenish their bodies.

However, some states will expressly require you to do so.

For instance:

StateType of employees coveredDuration
AlaskaThose under eighteen years and scheduled to work for more than five hoursMinimum of thirty minutes
AlabamaFourteen to fifteen year olds working for more than five hoursMinimum of thirty minutes
CaliforniaAll workers having a work shift lasting for more than five hours. However does not apply if a work day constitutes six hours or waived by mutual consent. Also a second meal period is needed after ten hours; however can be waived if the workday does not surpass twelve hours and the initial meal.  Minimum of thirty minutes
ArkansasEmployees below eighteen years and working for a minimum of five and a half hours and twelve hour breaks between workdays.Thirty to sixty minutes
ConnecticutEmployees working for a minimum of seven and a half hoursMinimum of thirty minutes
ColoradoWorkers working for over five hours and are covered by the Colorado’s Minimum Wage Order.    Minimum of thirty minutes
FloridaWorkers under eighteen years working for a minimum of four hours.Minimum thirty minutes
DelawareEmployees working for a minimum of seven and a half hours Workers under eighteen years working for five hoursMinimum thirty minutes       At least thirty minutes
IllinoisWorkers working for a minimum of seven and a half hours Employees under sixteen working for more than five hoursA minimum of twenty minutes   At least thirty minutes
HawaiiEmployees between fourteen and fifteen years and working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty of minutes
LowaWorkers under sixteen years and working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
IndianaWorkers under eighteen years and working for more than six yearsBetween one and two breaks that total up to thirty minutes
KentuckyWorkers having a schedule of more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
KansasIf the lunch break is less than thirty minutes then the employee must be paidA minimum of thirty minutes if unpaid
MaineEmployees working for more than six hoursAt least thirty minutes
LouisianaWorkers under eighteen years and working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes if it is unpaid
MassachusettsEmployees working a minimum of six hoursAt least thirty minutes
MarylandWorkers under eighteen working for five consecutive hours     Particular retail employeesA minimum of thirty minutes for over eight hours and an additional fifteen minutes for every extra four hours Thirty minutes for a work shift constituting a minimum of six hours
MinnesotaWorkers working for more than four hours   Employees working for more than eight hoursAdequate time to utilize the nearest restroom   Adequate time to take a meal
MichiganWorkers below eighteen years working for  a minimum of five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
NebraskaWorkers in a workshop, assembling plant or mechanical shopA minimum of thirty minutes for every eight hour shift
MissouriEmployees under sixteen yearsThirty to sixty minute lunch breaks after every five and a half hours
New HampshireEmployees working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
NevadaWorkers having more than eight hour shifts Employees working for more than three and a half  hoursAt least thirty minutes   A minimum of a ten minute rest break
New MexicoWorkers are not entitled to rest or meal breaks. If permitted employers pay for those under twenty minutesMore than thirty minutes meal breaks
New HampshireEmployees working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
New JerseyEmployees below eighteen years working for more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
North CarolinaWorkers under the age of sixteen years with shifts of more than five hoursA minimum of thirty minutes
New yorkPersons working in a factory setting are permitted a minimum period of sixty minutes for the noonday meal Employees under the mercantile or businesses under the provision of this particular chapter shall be provided with a thirty minute noonday meal break. 

The table above provides lunch break requirements and durations for some of the states across the US. For more details, you can visit each state's labor laws.

Tracking Break Times

Putting a tab on how your employees respond to the provided Meal breaks and rest breaks can significantly affect how things run in your organization.

For example:

  • Can help determine if your company is complying with the required labor regulations.

And to enable enforcement of time-off and attendance policies.

Nonetheless, you need to select an effective time clock system that allows easier clocking in and clocking out of your employees during such breaks; even better, get an idea of their real locations via the GPS. 

Other ways of tracking your employee break times include:

  1. The utilization of a mobile attendance system for remote workers: This technology uses the global positioning system (GPS) to legally track an employee's movement
  2. The use of Wall mount Card Swipes: This technique constitutes an updated punch card system that can be used to monitor how your employees attend to their various breaks
  3. The utilization of Retina and fingerprint scanners to clock in and clock out your employees: This technology can be used to clock in and clock out employees in real-time

Unpaid Meal Breaks

Meal breaks that don't take more than twenty minutes in any particular workday are considered "hours worked" by law.

Therefore, as an employer, you'll be required to compensate your workers.

In the case of bona fide meal time-offs, the following happens:

  • If you opt not to pay non-exempt workers for meal breaks, you must allow them an unpaid minimum break of thirty minutes. During this period, you must refrain from involving your employees in any tasks or job duties.

Constantly interrupting an employee's unpaid meal breaks can attract a wage abuse civil suit.

Guidelines for Providing Employee Meal and Rest Breaks

To effectively provide Employee break time, you can consider the following:

  • Having Break at work rules that are in line with the federal and state laws concerning meal and rest breaks: A ten-minute rest period after every four-hour work period and a minimum of thirty minutes unpaid meal breaks—for instance
  • Putting in place enforcement measures:  Allow managers to schedule rest and meal periods, as well as give them the powers to punish those who fail to adhere to the laid down regulations.


Is it a must for an organization to provide meal and rest breaks?

Although it isn't a federal requirement, specific states dictate that businesses should provide time-offs for their employees to attend to their humanly needs, as well as seek medical attention.  

Does an employee who partakes in some duties such as answering phone calls deserve compensation?

Yes, any employee who attends to duty during their meal break time deserves compensation. Besides, they can claim payments if their unpaid meal breaks are interrupted.

Do companies need to provide more than one meal period for employees working twelve-hour shifts?

Some state laws require organizations to provide their employees with a second meal break after a particular number of hours, besides having the initial one.

In the absence of local or state requirement, it's a no brainer to allocate additional meal periods for employees on long work shifts.


In summary, meal and rest breaks are necessary within any organization as they allow productivity and customer retention, among other fringe benefits.

As such, organizations need to review their respective state labor laws to put in place these necessary periods.


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