Recently a client asked us if they had to provide lunch breaks for their employees. So we thought it was a great opportunity to shed some light on what rules employers must follow when it comes to offering meal and rest periods for their employees.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) - the federal law that establishes minimum wage, overtime pay and other standards for employees in the United States - does NOT require that meal breaks or rest periods be given to employees.
So, in other words, it's up to the states.
However, all employers covered by the FLSA must comply with the law's provision on break time for nursing mothers.
As usual, state laws on meal breaks and rest periods vary by state.
For example, only eight states have requirements for private sector employers when it comes to paid rest.
But there are 21 states that have requirements for private sector employees when it comes to mandated meal periods.
Here's a great reference on state labor laws from the United States Department of Labor.
New York employers
Although we have clients all over the country, most of the businesses we help are in New York State, so we're going to dive into New York labor law specifically for this topic.
New York requires that employers provide employees meal periods as follows:
- Employees are entitled to a 30-minute break between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for shifts that cover that time span and are more than 6 consecutive hours.
- Employees are entitled to a 45-minute break for shifts more than 6 consecutive hours that begin between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The break must be in the middle of the employee’s shift.
- Employees are entitled to an additional 20-minute break between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. for all shifts that begin before 11 a.m. and continue after 7 p.m.
- Factory workers are entitled to a 60-minute break between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Factory workers are entitled to an additional 60-minute break in the middle of their shift for all shifts that are more than 6 consecutive hours and begin between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Factory Workers are entitled to a 60-minute lunch break between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and a 60-minute meal break at the time midway between the beginning and end of the shift for all shifts of more than six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and lasting more than six hours.
Non-Factory Workers are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for shifts six hours or longer that extend over that period and a 45-minute meal break at the time midway between the beginning and end of the shift for all shifts of more than six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
All Workers are entitled to an additional 20-minute meal break between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. for workdays that extend from before 11:00 a.m. to after 7:00 p.m.
Here's a PDF document from the New York State Department of Labor that breaks down the laws in more detail for those that are interested.