State Laws on Meal Breaks

Some states require employers to provide meal breaks, although that time generally isn't paid.

A meal break is time off work to eat lunch or another meal during a shift. The federal wage and hour law -- the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) -- doesn't require employers to provide meal breaks. However, a number of states do.

Paid or Unpaid?

Under the FLSA, an employee must be paid for all hours worked. This includes meal breaks, if the employee has to work during the break. For example, a receptionist who has to watch the phones or wait for a delivery while eating lunch must be paid for that time, even if the employer doesn't otherwise pay employees for meal breaks. Most states follow the same rule: If an employee has to work through lunch or another meal break, the employee must be paid for that time. 

State Meal Break Laws

Fewer than half the states require employers to give employees a break for lunch. In some states, breaks are required only after the employee has worked a certain number of hours. In others, employees are entitled to breaks only if they work a certain number of hours in a day, total. Here are the current rules:

California Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after five hours of work.
Colorado Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after five hours of work.
Connecticut Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work a seven-and-a-half hour day.
Delaware Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work a seven-and-a-half hour day.
Illinois Employees are entitled to a 20-minute meal break if they work a seven-and-a-half hour day.
Kentucky Employees are entitled to a reasonable off-duty meal break close to the middle of their shifts.
Maine Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after six hours of work.
Massachusetts Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than a six-hour day.
Minnesota Employees are entitled to sufficient time for a meal break if they work an eight-hour day.
Nebraska Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break, off site, for each eight-hour shift.
Nevada Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work an eight-hour day.
New Hampshire Employees are entitled to a 30-minute break after they work five consecutive hours, unless the employer allows the employee to eat while working and it is feasible for the employee to do so.
New York Certain employees are entitled to a 45-minute or 60-minute meal break, depending on the industry.
North Dakota Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than a five-hour day.
Oregon Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work at least six hours; if the employer can show that it is industry practice or custom, the employer may instead provide a paid meal break of at least 20 minutes. 
Pennsylvania Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after five hours of work.
Rhode Island Employees are entitled to a 20-minute meal break if they work a six-hour shift; employees who work an eight-hour shift get a 30-minute break.
Tennessee Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work a six-hour day, unless there is ample time for breaks during the day.
Vermont Employees are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to eat and use the restroom.
Washington Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than a five-hour day.
West Virginia Employees are entitled to a 20-minute break if they work a six-hour day, unless they can take breaks as needed or eat lunch while working.
Wisconsin The law recommends, but does not require, that employees get a 30-minute meal break, particularly if they work more than a six-hour day.

Getting Legal Help

If you have not received the meal breaks to which you are entitled, or if your employer requires you to work through your meal break, you may want to consult with an employment lawyer. A lawyer can review the facts and quickly determine whether your employer is following the applicable federal, state, and local break laws. If not, a lawyer can explain your options and help you figure out how to proceed. Although your claim alone might not carry high damages, a lawyer might be interested in filing a lawsuit if your employer has an illegal break policy that it applies to all employees. 

Learn more about Enforcing Your Wage and Hour Rights.

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