Must an Employer give all employees a break? Do you have to give your employees a rest break every 4 hours? How long does the break have to be? Are breaks paid time or unpaid? The answer depends on your state. Some states do require breaks for non-exempt employees, though most do NOT have any such requirements for adults. There are often more regulations concerning the work hours for minors, including type of work done, length of workshift, or even work days.
Federal law: The federal law does NOT require any breaks from private employers. What it does require is that any work breaks that are 2o minutes or less must be paid. That is it. If your state does not have its own break laws, then you go by the federal standards.
State Laws differ. Currently, the DOL only lists 9 states that have mandatory break laws for adults: CA, CO, IL, KY, MN, NV, OR, VT, WA. Most of these impose the following: 10 minutes per every 4 hours of work. There may be additional regulations for minors or specific industries. New York, especially, is known for arcane work laws for particular industries (some of which no longer exist).
Additional Information: The federal Department of Labor provides an excellent summary of the various state regulations:
What if my state does not require a break? Even though many states do NOT require breaks, most employers still offer breaks to their employees, giving them the chance to stretch, use the restroom, smoke, snack, or get some fresh air. You as an employer need to decide if it makes good business sense to provide those breaks.
What about exempt employees? Employees who are exempt from overtime, are usually also exempt from break and lunch rules. Most employers will offer exempt employees the same number of breaks that are given to hourly employees, but that decision is yours to make.
Establish your break rules in writing. Make sure there is a section in your company employee handbook covering this topic. Setting your rules in writing helps to prevent any confusion and also makes it easier to enforce your standards. Consult a labor law attorney for help in designing an Employee Handbook that will meet the legal requirements for your state, local, industry, and size.
Whether employee breaks are required or not, most employers find that breaks help with productivity. Encourage employees to use their break times for their personal needs, like phone calls, smoking, snacking, and chatting with one another.
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