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The need for a break in the workplace is crucial for employees to maintain their health and productivity. Although it can seem disadvantageous, since the time they spend off the clock is lost work hours, it’s important to remember that a business owners’ workday will be more productive if their employees are well-rested.
Depending on which state (or states) a business operates in, breaks during the workday may be mandated by either state or federal law. Not quite sure which law applies to your business? Fret not, we're here to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of work law.
The first law that needs to be considered is the federal law which is the Fair Labor Standards Act. This law states that any employee who works more than 40 hours a week must be given at least one day off from work per week. Furthermore, breaks lasting 20 minutes or less must be paid by the employer and breaks more than 30 minutes (which are usually for lunch) need not be paid.
The second law which needs to be discussed is the state laws, which vary from state to state when it comes to meal periods, lunch breaks, and rest breaks. Each state has its own set of rules about what they require employers to provide their employees with when it comes to taking a break. Keep reading to find out what laws apply to which states.
Aside from knowing the relevant laws that govern meal and break periods in a specific state, there are a few more things to consider when planning breaks into the normal workday of your employees. Factors such as age, hours worked, when working shifts start, and even school play a huge role in whether you legally have to offer breaks. Especially if you employ minors, their working hours need to be tracked for you to offer adequate breaks and never risk breaking the law.
Using a time tracking tool like Atto can save your business from accidentally or unknowingly violating labor laws. When you track your employees’ working hours, you will know exactly how long your employees work and how many breaks to offer. You can, of course, choose to offer more breaks, but there needs to be a mutual agreement between you and your staff. This way, you won’t risk getting fined, since penalties can be quite large and your business may even be investigated.
Why breaks are good for your employees
The global workplace is changing. With the rise of freelance and remote work and an ever-increasing number of hours spent at work, employee wellbeing has never been more important. This is especially true for employees working out in the field. But what does it mean to look after your staff?
Companies large and small are starting to look at employee wellbeing as more than just a responsibility - it's fundamental for competitiveness. Allowing employees to take breaks and refuel often during the day will lead to increased productivity, efficiency, and happiness. Sometimes all it takes is a 5-minute break every hour to help with concentration and creativity. This makes your business stand out from the rest and position yourself as a leader in your industry - not only do you offer quality work, but you also take care of your employees as much as you do your customers.
Breaks have a huge impact on the mental health of your employees. According to a study from the World Health Organization, companies that invest in improving the mental health of their employees see an ROI (Return On Investment) of fourfold. That means that for every $1 spent, the company gets $4 in return.
Forbes also noted that there is a correlation between long lunch breaks and more satisfied and engaged employees. The breaks directly impact employee wellbeing, which in turn impacts their work. Some other benefits include:
Higher employee engagement
Engaged employees are not only more productive but your business benefits in many ways. When rested, employees typically have stronger skills, better decision-making capabilities, increased customer satisfaction, and lower turnover rates. Studies suggest that 81% of employees who take a break from work by eating lunch and talking with a colleague have a strong desire to be active in their company.
Having a few minutes every once in a while to just take a step back from tasks is all that’s needed to come back with a fresh new perspective or a solution. With this, workers can reduce the stress they get from urgent and important tasks. Instead of staring at the screen or documents trying to figure out why some things don’t add up, a little breath of fresh air or a short walk can do wonders to clear an employee’s mind and help them relax. Less stress = higher productivity.
Lesser chance of a burnout
Employees who are less likely to experience burnout are more likely to be happier with their work. One way to avoid burnout is by making sure you allow enough time for your employees to take a break and come back to work refreshed.
Employers that allow their staff to take regular five-minute breaks find that their employees work better and more efficiently in the long run. Science suggests that taking moments to pause, breathe, and think can help make better decisions and reduce mistakes. Having downtime also allows the brain to form memories and learn things faster. This means your employees will be able to cope with new information better, making them more efficient in their roles.
A better employer brand
Word of mouth goes a long way. Your customers, potential hires, random people on Facebook, and even Toni’s uncle all can tell what type of a company you are by looking at how well you take care of your employees. Making employee wellbeing a priority will set your company apart from others and improve your employer brand. A strong employer brand doesn’t just attract qualified candidates but attracts the best ones on the market. Potential customers will also want to work more with you because of your company culture.
To ensure you're complying with requirements around work and breaks and building a positive environment for your staff, keep reading to find out key meal and rest break laws in each state.
Employee Break Laws By State
Alabama state laws are generally pretty clear on this - employers should provide a 30-minute meal and rest break for employees aged between 14 and 15 who work more than 5 consecutive hours.
Alabama employers don't need to provide meal periods or breaks to those 16 and older. This means that the federal rule applies and they're not required to provide either a meal period or break time during work hours. If employers decide to provide breaks for periods that are less than 20 minutes, then they have to be paid. Regular meal or lunch breaks (usually 30 minutes or more) do not need to be paid, as long as the employee can do whatever they want during this time and is completely free of responsibilities.
Alaska wage and hour laws require that employers provide at least a 30-minute break to employees between the ages of 14-17 who work six consecutive hours or more. Minors who work for five hours in a row are entitled to at least 30 minutes of break time before returning to their job. The break should be taken after the first hour and a half of work but before the beginning of the last hour.
Employers in Alaska are not obligated to provide breaks for any employees over the age of 18. Still, if they do, these employers must pay their staff for time on break - but only if it is less than 20 minutes. Employees with meal break periods of over 20 minutes don't have to be compensated, but they also have to be relieved of all work responsibilities.
Check out Alaska’s meal and rest break laws here.
Arizona does not have any wage and hour laws that require an employer to provide a meal period or break for employees. The federal regulations, therefore, apply here, which do not require employers to give either of these things, but it is recommended that you talk to your company’s HR department for further information. However, employers need to pay breaks of 20 minutes or less, if they choose to allow them. Employees do not need to be compensated for break time of more than 30 minutes, as long as they are relieved of all duties and can make use of the time however they wish.
Check out Arizona’s meal and rest break laws here.
In Arkansas, employers are not required to provide employees with a meal or break period unless they are children who work in the entertainment industry. It is up to the employer whether to provide breaks of 20 minutes and if they do they have to be paid. Additionally, if an employer chooses to provide a meal period (typically 30 minutes or longer), it is unpaid so long as the employee is completely relieved of all work duties during the meal period.
California labor law states that if you work more than 5 hours a day, you are given a break of 1/2 hour except when your workday is less than 6 hours and there is an agreement between the employee and employer to waive a meal break. Employees work on-duty breaks only when their job duties dictate and there is a written agreement about how break time will be handled. Employees can cancel their agreement with the company at any time.
A company is required to give their employees a second meal break of at least 30 minutes if they work more than 10 hours. An exception is if the total hours worked are less than 12. If during that time and the first meal period was not waived, the second meal break may be waived if both the employer and employee agree.
If your work shift exceeds 5 consecutive hours, you are entitled to a ½ hour break from work. On-duty meal periods are also counted as working hours if the type of work prevents relief from duties.
For employees who work 7½ consecutive hours or more, the break should be ½ hour after the first 2 hours and before the last 2 hours during the workday.
Check out Connecticut’s wage and hour laws here.
Delaware labor laws say that employees are entitled to half an hour, at some point in the day, after the first two hours and before the last two hours. This is for employees who work 7½ consecutive hours or more.
District of Columbia
When it comes to breaks, the District of Columbia does not require any other type of break other than for nursing mothers. Those individuals must be given a reasonable amount of time that is adequate for them to go to a specific room that is a dedicated space and is sanitary, as well as close to the person. This space cannot be a bathroom or toilet. Employees can take their break time in addition to other breaks offered by the company and it doesn't have to be for a specific period.
Florida has specific break laws for minors. Anyone under the age of 18 is not allowed to work more than four hours without a 30-minute break.
Nevertheless, there are four exceptions to this rule:17-year-old old high school graduates
- Minors who are still in high school and have not graduated must have a signed certificate of exemption from their school.
- Students who are enrolled in a public school and who qualify for a hardship exemption, such as an economic necessity
- Those under 18 and who are employed in domestic service in private homes, employed by their parents, or employed in the Florida legislature
Check out Florida’s meal and rest break laws here.
In Georgia, there is no specified break policy. Regarding nursing mothers, they are required to take a break within a reasonable length of time from when the child nurses. The same is also for those that have religious beliefs and require taking breaks.
Breastfeeding mothers are entitled to express their milk during unpaid breaks. This time needs to be provided in a separate, private space that is not the restroom or toilet. Similarly, as in D.C, breastfeeding break time can be taken together with other breaks and doesn’t need to be paid by the employer.
Check out Georgia’s meal and rest break laws here.
Hawaii labor laws require an employer to grant at least half an hour for lunch to any employee who is 14-15 years old, is nonexempt, and works more than 5 hours consecutively.
For 16 years old and over, there are no laws that require breaks. In Hawaii, the federal rule applies where employers don’t need to provide breaks. If they choose to do so, then meal breaks of less than 20 minutes need to be paid.
Check out Hawaii’s meal and rest break laws here.
There are no rest or meal break laws in Idaho.
Check out Idaho’s meal and rest break laws here.
Illinois labor laws require a minimum of 20 minutes to employees who work 7 and a half hours or more. The break must be taken no later than 5 hours after the beginning of the working period. Hotel cleaning and maintenance staff need to receive a meal break of 30 minutes when they work 7 hours or more.
Break laws in Indiana only apply to minors. Minors that work more than 6 hours need to have two rest breaks that total 30 minutes taken at any time during their working hours.
Check out Indiana’s meal and rest break laws here.
Similar to Indiana, Iowa doesn’t have meal breaks for employees over 18 years old. Minors working 5 hours or more are entitled to a half an hour break.
Check out Iowa’s meal and rest break laws here.
Kansas does not have any laws requiring an employer to provide a meal period or breaks. The federal rule does not require a break or a meal period. If the employer decides to offer breaks to their employees, then any break less than 20 minutes must be paid. Breaks for lunch that are more than 30 minutes don’t need to be paid provided that employees are relieved of their work responsibilities.
Check out Kansas’s meal and rest break laws here.
Workers are allowed 1/2 hour between the 3rd & 5th hours of the working day. This time is unpaid, but coffee and snack breaks are not included in this unpaid break period.
Similar to other states, Louisiana’s employee break laws are only for minors. Employers must provide a 30-minute break (which can be unpaid) for any employee who is under 18 and works for more than 5 consecutive hours.
Employees are allowed a half an hour break after working for 6 consecutive hours. Urgent or emergency cases are not counted in this break.
Check out Maine’s meal and rest break laws here.
Maryland’s labor laws require employers to provide at least a 15-minute break for employees who work 4-6 hours or a 30-minute break for those who work more than 6 consecutive hours. In addition to this, employees who work for 8 or more consecutive hours require a half an hour break, as well as another 15 minutes for every 4 consecutive hours they work.
Check out Maryland’s meal and break laws here.
Employees in Massachusetts who work more than 6 hours are allowed a 30-minute break.
There is no set requirement related to meal or rest breaks for workers older than 18 years old in Michigan. Michigan's wage and hour laws only require that minors be given a break for 30 minutes if they work continuously for more than 5 hours.
Employees are entitled to a sufficient amount of rest off the job for every 8 consecutive hours they work. Breaks that are less than 20 minutes in length may not be deducted from the total hours worked.
Because wage and hour laws in Mississippi don’t require meal breaks for employees, the federal rule applies. Per the federal rule, employers don’t have to provide meal periods or breaks to non-exempt employees. However, if an employer chooses to do so, paid breaks of the type lasting less than 20 minutes must be taken. Employees are not required to be paid for a meal break lasting 30 minutes or more, as long as they are properly relieved of their duties.
In Missouri, the wage and hour laws don’t have any rules regarding break and meal breaks. The federal rule applies here, which doesn’t mandate employers to offer a meal period or break. If employers do decide to offer breaks then all breaks less than 20 minutes must be paid, and those over 30 minutes don’t have to be paid as long as employees are relieved of all work duties during this time.
Similar to other states, the federal rule applies to Montana because wage and hour laws don’t have any rules governing breaks and meal periods. According to the federal rule, employers aren’t required to provide a break for their employees unless they decide to do so. In this case, any break less than 20 minutes must be paid and those more than 30 minutes don’t have to be paid.
Check out Montana’s meal and rest break laws.
In Nebraska, employees are entitled to a lunch break off-premises for at least half an hour during each 8-hour work shift.
Nevada’s break laws require a break period of 30 minutes for employees who work 8 continuous hours.
Check out Nevada’s meal and rest break laws here.
New Hampshire permits a 30-minute break when an employee is working for five consecutive hours.
New Jersey law says that employers must give minors at least 30 minutes of break time if they work more than 5 continuous hours.
New Mexico does not generally require employers to provide a meal or rest break to their employees. The federal rule, which applies in this case, doesn't require an employer to provide breaks either. However, if employers choose to offer breaks, then breaks less than 20 minutes must be paid. Lunch breaks longer than 30 minutes don’t have to be paid.
In New York, employees are entitled to a 1-hour break during noon. For employees who work more than 6 hours and the shift extends over noon, they’re allowed a 30-minute break during noon. If employees start their shift before 11 a.m. and continue working after 7 p.m., then another 20-minute break between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m is allowed.
Any employee under the age of 16 who works more than five hours should be given a half an hour break. Other than that, North Carolina’s laws don’t mandate any other type of breaks for rest or meals.
Meal and break laws in North Dakota allow employees a break of 30 minutes if they work more than 5 hours. This break can be unpaid, but any break less than 30 minutes needs to be paid. During unpaid break periods, employees must be relieved of all work responsibilities.
Ohio has break laws only for minors. Anyone under the age of 18 and who is nonexempt must take a 30-minute break when working more than 5 hours. This meal break doesn’t have to be paid for.
Check out Ohio’s meal and rest break laws here.
An Oklahoma labor law states that employers are required to provide workers under the age of sixteen with a thirty-minute rest period for every 5 consecutive work hours. Moreover, employers must provide non-exempt employees under 16 years of age with a one-hour rest period for every 8 consecutive hours worked. There are no state-wide laws that mandate employers to offer any meal or break time to employees aged 16 and up.
In Oregon, employees are entitled to a half-hour break for each working shift of 6-8 hours. Furthermore, this break must be taken between the 2nd and 5th hour when working less than 7 hours, or if working for more than 7 hours employees must take their break between the 3rd and 6th hour. Any break less than 30 minutes (but no less than 20 minutes) must be paid and employees need to be free of all work duties.
Check out Oregon’s meal and rest break laws here.
Under Pennsylvania wage and hour law, 14-17-year-old employees who work more than 5 hours consecutively are to receive a break of at least 30 minutes. Pennsylvania laws don't generally require employers to give non-exempt adult employees a break, but if they do and it lasts less than 20 minutes then the break must be paid.
The state of Rhode Island requires that employees are allotted at least 20 minutes within every 6-hour shift, and 30 minutes for every 8-hour shift.
The state of South Carolina does not generally require an employer to give a meal or break period to employees. The federal rule also does not require employers to provide either a cafeteria break or a meal period. If an employer allows breaks, short breaks (of less than 20 minutes), must be compensated. Breaks lasting 30 minutes or more don’t need to be compensated.
South Dakota wage and hour laws don't usually stipulate a meal period or rest break for non-exempt employees so the federal rule applies. The federal rule also does not require employers to offer either an unpaid meal break or a paid rest break. However, if an employer chooses to do so, breaks lasting 20 minutes or less are still work time and must be compensated. Employers also don’t need to pay for lunch break times if they last for over 30 minutes.
Employees scheduled to work for a total of six hours or more can take a 30-minute break. The meal break cannot be scheduled within the first hour after the start time at which that person works.
Check out Tennessee meal and rest break laws here.
Because Texas doesn’t have any laws that mandate breaks or rest periods, the federal rule applies. The federal rule doesn't require employers to provide either a meal period or breaks but if they choose to do so, employers have to pay for any breaks lasting less than 20 minutes. Lunch breaks are usually unpaid, so long as the employees are completely free of their work responsibilities.
Check out Texas meal and rest break laws here.
Under Utah law, employers are required to provide a break for non-exempt minors aged 18 or under. The break should be at least 30 minutes long and should be provided no later than 5 hours after the start of their workday. Employers must also generally provide a mandatory 10-minute break after every 4 hours for non-exempt employees under 18. Minors can't work more than 3 consecutive hours without a break.
Check out Utah’s meal and rest break laws here.
Under the Vermont wage and hour law, employers need to provide their employees with enough breaks to eat & use the toilet. Beyond that, the federal rule. The federal law does not require an employer to provide a meal period or a break. However, if an employer chooses to do so, they must pay employees for any breaks of less than 20 minutes. Meal periods (usually more than 30 minutes) do not need to be paid as long as employees are relieved.
Check out Vermont’s meal and rest break laws here.
In Virginia, non-exempt employees who are 16 years old and younger must be provided with a 30-minute lunch break if they have been on duty for more than 5 hours continuously. Virginia also does not generally require employers to provide breaks for workers 16 years old or older. According to federal law, breaks of less than 20 minutes usually must be paid, whereas breaks longer than 30 minutes for lunch don’t have to be paid.
Employees are entitled to a ½-hour break, if the working period is longer than 5 hours in a row, should be given somewhere between 2 and 5 hours from the beginning of the shift. This counts as working time if the employee is required to stay on-site or at a prescribed work site. Additional ½ hours, before or during overtime, for employees working more than three hours beyond regular working hours.
In West Virginia, if a worker does not have a 20-minute break allotted to eating or resting, the employer must let them rest from their work. Other breaks that are permitted by employers should be paid if they last less than 20 minutes. Employers should provide minors who work more than 5 hours continuously with a lunch break of at least 30 minutes.
The requirements for break time under the law in Wisconsin are that employers must provide non-exempt employees under the age of 18 who have worked more than 6 consecutive hours with at least a 30-minute duty-free meal period. Meal breaks should be started by approximately the middle of a workday and should normally last at least half an hour. Wisconsin does not generally require break periods for employees over eighteen years of age. Employers who offer break periods that are longer than 30 minutes do not have to pay for the time they are on break, but the employee must leave the workplace and not perform any work. Breaks lasting less than 30 minutes need to be paid
Wyoming does not typically require employers to provide rest or meal breaks, that's why federal law applies in this situation. The federal rule does not require an employer to provide a meal period or a break either. However, if an employer specifically requests that their employees take a break in a given interval of fewer than twenty minutes, this will be viewed as a break and should be paid. Meal or lunch breaks lasting longer than 30 minutes don't need to be paid, as long as the worker is completely relieved of all duties and has free time.
Check out Wyoming’s meal and rest break laws here.