Are employee lunch breaks required?

Employers have many questions concerning meal breaks: Are you required to give an employee a lunch break?  Is it only for those who work 8 hours?  How long should an employee lunch be?  30 minutes?  1 hour?  Should it be paid or not paid?

Did you know that only 20 states require private employers to give adult employees a meal period?  The majority of states have NO lunch break requirement for adults in the private sector (though 34 states have laws about meal periods for minors).

Federal law:  The federal government does not require private companies to offer lunch breaks.  However, if a break is 20 minutes or less, it must be paid.   To avoid violating this law, most employers set unpaid lunches at 30 minutes or longer.  If someone clocks back in a little early you will not be in violation of the federal law.

State Laws:  If your state regulates meal periods, it often sets requirements for how long someone can work before getting a lunch (5 or 6 hours).   Currently, the states that do require a lunch break are CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, KY, ME, MA, MN, NE, NV, NH, NY, ND, OR, RI, TN, VT, WA, and WV.  In New York they even specify what time of day the lunch has to happen.  The Department of Labor offers an excellent summary of the various state laws (which can get confusing):

Exempt Employees:  Often rest break and meal period rules do not apply to salaried- exempt employees.  See the DOL link above for details.

Get your policies in writing: It is essential for businesses to get your policies like breaks and lunches in writing, such as an employee handbook.  Make sure all managers and supervisors understand the law so that no one inadvertently breaks the law, because it could cause your company to face some expensive fines.

Looking for some practical help with hiring employees? Consider some of the guidebooks that we at Genuine HR have written:

Hiring Paperwork cover3  Employer's Guide to Hiring People

Thanks for visting Genuine HR. We hope you have found our site informative.

Disclaimer:  is a service of New Wind Business Solutions, providing Human Resources information, services and  products.  Genuine HR (including its parent company New Wind Business Solutions) provides no legal advice or financial advice. Information in our products, services, downloads, and websites is intended for general business information and training purposes only.

For specific understanding of how the law applies to you or your organization, please seek legal or tax counsel. Genuine HR has not made and cannot make any such advice. It is not the responsibility or duty of Genuine HR to assess a site-user’s or client’s need for any such legal or financial services at any time. The advice and strategies contained in our articles, products, and services may not be suitable for every situation. If legal, financial or other expert assistance is required, the services of competent professionals should be sought.

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