When business owners hire their first employees, they may wonder whether or not they have to provide their employees with work breaks. Do federal and state laws require breaks? If so, what are the rules? Employers also need to determine how they will track employee work breaks. Tracking it manually may not be the best option. Instead, time and attendance software can track employee breaks so companies can ensure they comply with the law. They lack features that many businesses need, but learn more about what free time clocks can offer and what you'll be missing.
How do employee breaks work?
There are different kinds of breaks employers can provide to employees, and they can be paid or unpaid. The breaks available to employees may vary from workplace to workplace depending on the employers' attendance policies.
One example is a rest break, which can last between five and 20 minutes. There are also meal breaks, which last 30 minutes or longer, bathroom breaks, breaks for nursing mothers, breaks for religious practices, and smoke breaks.
In some U.S. states, employers decide which work breaks they will offer, while in other states, there are very specific rules companies must follow, or they could get into trouble for noncompliance.
Federal meal and break laws
There are no federal laws that require an employer to provide meal and rest breaks for employees. Meal breaks are not considered part of an employee's workday or shift, and employees do not need to be paid for them.
However, when employers provide short breaks that last between five and 20 minutes, federal law and Department of Labor regulations dictate that these breaks are compensable work hours, and they must be included in the sum of hours an employee worked during the workweek. They also need to be counted when figuring out whether an employee worked overtime.
If, however, an employee extends their break without authorization from their employer, this time is not counted with the total number of hours the employee worked when their employer expressly communicated to them that a break can only last a certain length of time, such as 20 minutes, for example.
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State meal and break laws
Here is more information on each state's meal and break laws.
- Alabama: Any employee who is 14 or 15 years old and is scheduled to work five hours consecutively must be given a 30-minute meal or rest break. For employees ages 16 and older, employers aren't required to provide breaks.
- Alaska: Employees age 14 to 17 who work at least five hours consecutively are entitled to a break of 30 minutes or longer, and it needs to be taken after the first 90 minutes of their shift (or workday) but before the last hour they are on the job. For employees aged 18 and older, employers don't need to provide a work break. However, if an employer chooses to offer a break, they compensate employees for this break if it 20 minutes or less. Longer meal breaks are not paid.
- Arizona: There are no state laws governing employee meal or rest breaks.
- Arkansas: The laws in Arkansas apply to minors who are under 16 years of age and who work in the entertainment business. If an employer gives short breaks that are 20 minutes or less, then employees must be paid for those breaks. Longer meal breaks, typically at least 30 minutes long, can be unpaid if the employee doesn't work during them.
- California: Employers are required to allow employees who work for more than five hours consecutively to take a meal break for at least 30 minutes. For employers in the film industry, this rule applies if an employee works more than six hours in a row. Meal breaks are counted as "hours worked," and the employee must be paid for meal breaks, unless they are relieved of all work-related duties and are allowed to leave their worksite. In some cases, California allows employers to provide an "on-duty" meal period. Employers must allow some nonexempt employees to take a net 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked, or a significant portion thereof. The rest period should be taken in the middle of the workday or work period, but this rule does not apply to employees who work less than 3.5 hours in a workday or shift. Since the rest period is classified as time worked, the employer covers these breaks.
- Colorado: There are some break laws for specific industries, including commercial support services, retail and service, health and medical, and food and beverage. Employers must give employees breaks of at least 30 minutes when they work in excess of five consecutive hours. Meal breaks are unpaid, as long as the employee isn't working during the break. Employers in these industries must also permit employees to take 10-minute paid breaks for every four hours worked, and the break should be in the middle of the employee's shift. There are no laws regarding other industries, so employers are not required to provide meal or rest breaks.
- Connecticut: If employees have worked for 7.5 or more hours, employers must grant meal breaks of no less than 30 minutes. Further, employees are to take these breaks after the first two hours of work but before the last two hours. Employers aren't required to provide shorter breaks.
- Delaware: Employers must allow employees who are 18 and older to take meal breaks that last no less than 30 minutes when they work a shift of 7.5 (or longer) hours. These meal breaks are typically unpaid. Additionally, employees should take these breaks after the first two hours but before the last two hours of work. Employers must also allow employees who are younger than 18 to take a meal break for at least a half-hour if they work five hours consecutively.
- Florida: If employees are 18 or younger, state law requires employers give them a meal break lasting no less than 30 minutes if they have worked four consecutive hours. Employers aren't required to provide shorter breaks.
- Georgia: There are no state laws about employee meal and rest breaks.
- Hawaii: Employers must allow any employee who is 14 or 15 to take at least a 30-minute meal break when they have worked at least five hours consecutively. There are no state laws about rest breaks.
- Idaho: There are no state laws governing meal or rest breaks. It is at employers' discretion if they choose to provide them.
- Illinois: Employees who work at least 7.5 consecutive hours must take a meal break of 20 minutes or more no later than five hours after they start work. This break can be unpaid. If an employee works 15 hours, they can take two meal breaks. Employers aren't required to provide shorter breaks.
- Indiana: For employees under the age of 18 and who work six or more consecutive hours, employers must provide one or two rest periods that total more than 30 minutes. Employers aren't required by Indiana law to provide shorter rest breaks.
- Iowa: For employees who are age 16 and younger, employers must give these younger workers a 30-minute meal break if the employee has worked at least five hours in a row. Employers aren't required to provide meal or rest breaks to adult workers.
- Kansas: There are no state laws; it is up to company management if they want to provide meal or rest breaks.
- Kentucky: For every four hours of work, employees are entitled to a 10-minute minimum work break. There must also be a reasonable period for a meal break, and the employee must take it between their third and fifth hour on the job. A meal period doesn't have to be paid if the employee is not working during it.
- Louisiana: Employees who are 18 and under and work five consecutive hours are entitled to a meal period. Meal and rest breaks are optional for adult workers.
- Maine: Employers must allow employees to take an unpaid rest break lasting a minimum of 30 minutes for every six hours worked.
- Maryland: Employees must provide employees under the age of 18 with a 30-minute break for every five hours in a row they work. Employers aren't required to provide meal breaks for adult workers.
- Massachusetts: Employers should give employees working six consecutive hours a 30-minute break.
- Michigan: Employees who are under 18 years of age must take a 30-minute break if they work more than five hours consecutively. It is optional if employers want to provide meal or rest breaks to adult workers.
- Minnesota: Employers must allow employees a meal period when they work eight or more hours. Employees also receive restroom breaks for every four consecutive hours worked.
- Mississippi, Missouri and Montana: There are no state laws governing meal or rest breaks.
- Nebraska: Employers in mechanical establishments, such as assembly plants and workshops, must provide employees a 30-minute lunch period when they work an eight-hour shift.
- Nevada: Employers must give employees at least a 30-minute meal period when they work eight hours straight. They must also give employees a break lasting no less than 10 minutes for every four hours they work.
- New Hampshire: Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after working five consecutive hours. Other shorter rest breaks are optional if employers want to provide them.
- New Jersey: Employees aged 18 ( or younger) receive a 30-minute break after they work five consecutive hours. Employers aren't required to offer meal or rest breaks for adult workers.
- New Mexico: There are no state laws governing meal and rest breaks.
- New York: Employers must provide meal breaks of varying lengths depending on the duration and time of an employee's shift.
- North Carolina: Employers must grant any employee who is age 15 and younger a 30-minute break when they work more than five hours at a time. It is not required that employers offer adult workers a meal and/or rest break.
- North Dakota: When an employee works more than five hours consecutively and there are at least two employees on duty, employers must grant employees an (unpaid) uninterrupted 30-minute break for meals.
- Ohio: Employees under the age of 18 must receive a 30-minute break after working five hours consecutively. Employers are not obligated to provide adult workers with meal or rest breaks.
- Oklahoma: Employees under the age of 16 are entitled to a 30-minute break when they work more than five hours in a row and a one-hour rest break after working eight consecutive hours.
- Oregon: For a shift lasting at least six hours, employees must receive one 30-minute uninterrupted and unpaid meal period.
- Pennsylvania: Employees ages 14 to 17 must take a 30-minute meal break if they work five hours consecutively. It is optional if employers want to offer meal and rest breaks to older employees.
- Rhode Island: Employers are required to give employees who work six hours consecutively a 20-minute meal period and a 30-minute meal period when they work a shift of eight hours.
- South Carolina and South Dakota: There are no state laws requiring companies to offer a meal or rest break to their workers.
- Tennessee: Employees who work six hours consecutively are entitled to a 30-minute rest period.
- Utah: When an employee under the age of 18 works more than five hours, they must receive a 30-minute meal period. Employers must also provide a rest break lasting at least 10 minutes to employees under the age of 18 for every three-hour period worked.
- Vermont: Employers must provide employees with "a reasonable opportunity" to use the bathroom and eat during their shift or workday.
- Virginia: Employers need to provide a lunch period of no less than 30 minutes to employees age 14 or 15 who work more than five hours consecutively.
- Washington: Employers must allow employees who are 18 and older to take at least one 30-minute meal break when they work five consecutive hours. Companies must also provide employees who are 18 and older a paid rest break lasting at least 10 minutes for every four-hour period they work.
- West Virginia: Employers must grant employees meal breaks of no less than 20 minutes when they work at least six hours. Employees under the age of 16 must receive at least a 30-minute meal break when they work five or more hours consecutively.
- Wisconsin: Employees who are age 18 or younger are entitled to a minimum 30-minute meal period when they work a shift of six hours or more.
- Wyoming: There are no state laws mandating employers to offer meal or rest breaks.
How time and attendance software helps you comply with meal and break laws
Tracking employee work breaks is not only tedious but also difficult when you try to do it manually. Tracking employee hours and breaks manually can lead to errors, and it can jeopardize your company when it comes to complying with state labor laws. Instead, investing in time and attendance software can help you with these tasks, and it provides five additional benefits.
First, time and attendance software allows employees to clock in and out when they go on breaks. They can do this remotely through the desktop software or even on their mobile devices if they are not at their desk. [Check out our review of OnTheClock.com, our choice for best overall time and attendance solution.]
Second, managers can preprogram meals and breaks ahead of time.
Third, time and attendance software alerts you when it's time for employees to take breaks, and, fourth, it notifies you when employees have worked overtime.
Last, by using time and attendance software, you can free up your time and energy to focus on other initiatives. You can comply with state laws while also ensuring that your employees are productive, satisfied, and happy with their job while contributing to the success of your company.