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What Are the Employee Lunch Break Labor Laws?

Lunch breaks promote good health, encourage social interactions, and boost morale. Kimberly Elsbach, a UC-Davis management professor who studies workplace psychology, believes that regular breaks increase productivity in the workplace as well.

However, no federal laws mandate lunch breaks in the U.S. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia have implemented state-specific laws that outline what a reasonable lunch break entails. Here are a few key details about employee lunch break labor laws.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to give breaks to their employees. Regardless, it has become a common practice and reasonable expectation for employers to offer unpaid lunch breaks to employees who work for a certain number of hours, which varies per state and industry.

Lunch Break Pay

Per the FLSA, employers need not pay employees during meal breaks in any state. However, employers must allow employees to take the full lunch break without working unless a state law specifies otherwise. However, many people eat lunch while continuing to work at their desk. These employees typically receive pay for their time since they are not taking a legally defined lunch break.

Lunch Break State Laws

The following states have lunch break provisions for workers over age 18:

California

The Industrial Welfare Commission Orders requires a half an hour meal period after five hours of work, unless the workday will be completed in six hours or less and the employee and employer have an agreement to waive the meal period. A meal period after six hours of work is permissible if it does not affect the health of an employee. If an employee works for over 10 hours a day, a second meal period must be provided unless the total hours worked is 12 hours, then the second meal can be waved with employee's consent. Upon agreement with the employee, which can be revoked at any time, on duty meals apply for jobs with natures that prevent relief from duty.

Excluded industries are wholesale backing, motion picture, and broadcasting.

Colorado

For every five hours worked, a half an hour lunch is required unless the work day will end within six or less hours in the retail, trade, food and beverage, public housekeeping, medical profession, beauty service, laundry and dry cleaning, and janitorial service industries. If the nature of work prevents relief from duties, on duty meal periods are allowed.

Excluded industries are teacher, nurse, and other medical professionals.

Connecticut

If employees work for consecutively for seven and half hours or more, a half an hour lunch break is require after the first and before the last two hours of work. Employers who provide a half an hour of paid rest within each seven and a half hours of work are exempt. These requirements do not impair the 7/1/90 collective bargaining agreement.

The Labor Commissioner may waive this requirement for any jobs where compliance to it could result in a public safety hazard and only one employee can carry out the needed tasks. The circumstances are specific and judge on a case by case basis.

Delaware

If employees work for consecutively for seven and half hours or more, a half an hour lunch break is require after the first and before the last two hours of work. Employers who violate this can be charged up to $1,000 in penalties. Exemptions can be granted when compliance may risk public safety.

Excluded industries are teachers and workplaces covered with a collective bargaining or any other written agreement between employees and employer.

Illinois

Employees who work seven and a half hours or more must receive a 20-minute break within five hours. Hotel room attendants who clean rooms must receive a half an hour of rest for every seven hours worked. Different rules apply to employees with disabilities.

Employees with meal periods established with a collective bargaining agreement are exempt.

Kentucky

Generally a half an hour rest period is required between the 3rd and 5th hour of work, though it may be less under certain conditions Collective bargaining agreements or agreements between employer and employees can bypass this requirement.

Employers subjected to Federal Railway Labor Act are excluded.

Maine

Unless work allows for frequent breaks throughout the day, excluding emergency cases, a half an hour for lunch is required after six consecutive work hours. A collective agreement may change this policy.

Massachusetts

A half an hour for lunch is required after six consecutive work hours. The Labor Commissioner can grant exemptions for special circumstances and collective bargaining agreements.

Excluded industries are iron works, glass works, paper mills, letter press, and any establishments involved with bleaching or dyeing

Minnesota

For employees who work for eight consecutive hours or more, a sufficient but unspecified amount of unpaid time is required. Snack or rest periods of less than 20 minutes do not count. Meal requirements may not affect collective bargaining agreements.

Some agricultural and season employees are exempt.

Nebraska

For each-eight hour shift, a half an hour for lunch is required, unless a collective bargaining agreement covers the employee.

Nevada

For each eight-hour shift, a half an hour for lunch is required, unless a collective bargaining agreement covers the employee. The Labor commissioner may exempt employees under specific and case by case circumstances.

New Hampshire

Unless employers allows employee to eat while working (which must be possible), a half an hour lunch is required after five consecutive work hours.

New York

New York requires a one hour noon-day period for factory workers unless the Labor Commissioner grants permission for a shorter period. For all other employees, a half an hour is required for shifters over six consecutive hours. For those whose day starts before 11:00 am and continues after 7:00 pm, an additional 20 minutes is required between 5:00 pm-7:00 pm.

North Dakota

If desired, a half an hour between each shift that exceed five hours is allowed, unless a collective bargaining agreement waivers this.

Oregon

Unless a collective bargaining agreement covers the employer, a half an hour relief from all work is required for each work period of six to eight hours. For a seven hour period, breaks must fall between the second and fifth hour. For a work period exceeding seven hours, a break must come between the third and sixth hour.

Rhode Island

20 minutes for a meal time is required for every six hours of consecutive work and 30 minutes for every eight-hour shift.

Tennessee

A half an hour of rest is required for each six consecutive hours of works. The break may not be taken within the first hour of work. This requirement does not apply to jobs that offer frequent break periods by nature. Employer and employee may sign an agreement to opt the employee out of his or her lunch break.

Vermont

While it offers no specifics, it states that employers must offer employees "reasonable opportunities" to rest, eat, and use the restroom during work hours.

Washington

A half an hour rest period is required for five consecutive hours of work, which must be taken after the second hour of work but before the fifth. If the employee is on duty during this, it is counted as work time. For employees who work an additional three hours for a normal work day are required to have another half an hour lunch period. The Director of Labor holds the right to change this requirement.

Excluded industries are newspaper vendors or carriers, domestic or casual labor around private residences, sheltered workshop, and agricultural labor.

West Virginia

An employer must grant 20 minutes of rest for employees who have work six consecutive hours or more. Employees who cannot afford breaks may eat while working.

In addition to the listed provisions, some employers allow one-hour lunch breaks or additional rest periods.

For more information regarding specific state laws, visit the Wage and Hour Division's States pages.

For laws regarding minors, which also vary per state, visit the Youth Rules website.