Understanding Lunch Breaks Laws Broken Down by State

Many Americans do not feel comfortable taking a lunch break despite existing lunch break laws by state which requires employers to provide them with sanctioned time for breaks.

A survey from Tork found that about one in five North Americans are worried that their bosses won't think they are hardworking if they regularly stop working for meal periods and that their co-workers will judge them for taking a break every day.

And yet, multiple studies show that a break every few hours help employees feel refreshed and thereby more productive when they get back to work.

Enforcing a lunch break or a rest period is an easy way for to make sure employers provide a safeguard to ensure their employees' well-being. Lunch breaks can increase productivity, improve mental health, boost creativity, and encourage healthy habits.

This is good for the bottom line since overworked employees are more prone to committing errors and causing conflict in the workplace.

Breaking Down Lunch Break Laws

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Though meal breaks are not required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), there are states which mandate the employers must enforce meal periods and rest breaks.

Private employers that do not comply with their state's lunch break laws not only risk getting sued for wage and hour violations as well as DOL penalties, they can also harm their employee's well-being. These things are ultimately bad for business.

If you choose to provide lunch breaks for your employees, you need to be aware of the restrictions. For instance, federal law requires that employers must provide breaks that last 20 minutes or less to be paid.

This can be added to the employee's total time worked and be considered overtime. On the other hand, lunch breaks lasting 30 minutes or more are considered unpaid provided that the employee is completely relieved of all work duties.

Unfortunately, there are instances when employees still work during their lunch break. Right Management reported, for instance, that around 39% of employees eat at their desks and up to 28% do not take breaks at all even in states with mandatory break laws.

This is problematic and puts you at risk for FLSA violations, especially if your system automatically clocks out employees for lunch even though they are still working.

In situations when your employees keep working during meal breaks, you may be required to pay for their meal breaks. Employees must take their scheduled meal periods at the appropriate times.

Improper tracking of lunch breaks is a common labor violation that can end up costing you a lot of money in penalties and lawsuits.

To avoid this, there needs to be a clear understanding between employees and management about lunch break expectations. In addition, a good time and attendance software could improve lunch break tracking as required by state laws.

State Lunch Break Laws

Lunch break requirements vary with every. Some states, like California, have very specific break requirements, other states are not as stringent.

California Lunch Break Laws

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Nonexempt employees in California who work at least 5 hours per day are required to have at least a 30-minute unpaid lunch or meal break. Employees who work fewer than 6 hours can do without a meal break if there is mutual written consent between the employer and the employee.

In addition, employees who work more than 10 hours a day must be given another 30-minute unpaid meal break. The second meal break can be waived for workdays less than 12 hours if there is mutual written consent between the employer and the employee.

The law requires employers to enforce this mandate for all workdays of 12 hours or more. Employers who fail to provide the required meal break needs to pay an additional hour at their regular hourly rate.

According to the California Supreme Court, the law states that we must require employers to provide the mandated meal breaks, they are not obligated to ensure that their workers are not working during the break.

So, for employees who decide to work on their meal break even though they have been relieved of work, employers will not be liable to pay the premium. Employers are only liable if they knowingly allow their employees to work during lunch breaks.

Florida Lunch Break Laws

In Florida, lunch and rest breaks should be provided for minor employees or persons under the age of 18. Minors should not work more than 4 consecutive hours without a minimum of a 30-minute break. The exceptions to this rule are as follows-

  • Minors aged 16 and 17 years old who graduated from high school
  • Minors within the school-age limit with a valid certificate of exemption from their school superintendent
  • Minors enrolled in a public education institution qualified for a hardship exception (e.g. financial constraints or family emergency)
  • Children employed by their parents, children in domestic service in private homes, and pages employed in the Florida legislature
Additionally, individuals aged 18 and below may be exempt from minor break law provisions if they fall under the following conditions-

  • Currently or previously married
  • Disability of nonage has been removed by the court
  • Has served or is serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
The court finds employment to be in the best interest of the minor and approves the employment terms

New York Lunch Break Laws

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New York requires a 30-minute noonday period for employees who work shifts of more than 6 hours that extend over the noonday meal period.

Employees working before 11 am and continues until after 7 pm are entitled to an additional 20-minute break. In case there is only one employee working, the employee may volunteer to waive their break, but they must be allowed to eat on the job.

And if they request for a meal break, the employee must grant it. Finally, the New York Department of Labor may also permit shorter breaks in specific situations.

Texas Lunch Break Laws

While Texas law does not require lunch or rest breaks, it does require employers to provide employees with a minimum of 24 hours to rest or worship for every 7 days of work.

You can find the complete breakdown of Meal Period Requirements Under State Law for Adult Employees in Private Sector at the Department of Labor website.

Key Takeaways

  • Many Americans feel bad about taking lunch breaks. One in every five employees worries that their bosses will think they are not hard-working or that they will be judged by their colleagues.
  • Providing lunch breaks are an easy way to boost your staff's well-being and improve your bottom line. These breaks not only help increase productivity, but they can also improve mental health, boost creativity, and encourage healthy habits.
  • Though meal breaks are not required by federal laws, there are several states which mandate meal and rest breaks.
  • Failure to follow lunch break laws in your state can result in wage and hour violations as well as DOL penalties.
  • Improper tracking of lunch breaks is a common labor violation, hence the need for a clear understanding between employees and management about lunch break expectations and good tracking software for proper documentation as required by state laws.
  • A complete breakdown of Meal Period Requirements Under State Law for Adult Employees in the Private Sector are provided by the Department of Labor.

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