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The Complete Guide to Employee Break Laws in 2021

By Timerack

June 21, 2021

It’s in every employer’s interest to stay within the law, especially regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Passed in 1938, this groundbreaking act laid several important protections, including the right to a minimum wage, paid overtime, and the prohibition of employing minors in oppressive work. 

But interestingly enough, the FLSA says nothing about the right to lunch breaks or rest periods. In fact, there are no federal laws mandating that employers need to provide any meal, lunch, or break periods to their staff.

However, there is a federal provision under the FLSA that obliges employers to follow certain provisions when they do allow breaks. Employers must ensure they follow these as well as any state laws pertaining to breaks. Failing to do so could leave you open to a costly lawsuit that can spell trouble for your business.

Federal Law Employee Break Requirements

Under federal law, any employee breaks, when provided, must follow these provisions. Any non-meal rest breaks that last 20-minutes or less must be paid in full and counted when determining whether an employee has done over time.

Meal breaks that last 30-minutes or more do not have to be paid for so long as the employee is fully relieved of work duties for that time. While this seems pretty straightforward, it can get a little tricky in practice.

The problem is that many employees choose to eat lunch at their desk while still working at the same time. Some employees choose to forgo breaks entirely and continue working while they are supposed to be clocked out.

For any business using a tracking system that automatically clocks employees out for lunch breaks, this can be a major issue and leave you liable for FLSA violations. Another problem can arise when a staff member does take their break but remains responsible for work-related duties. In this case, they must be paid in full for their meal breaks.

It is for these reasons that both managers and employees must understand their break expectations. Failing to track rest or break periods can also be an FLSA violation. Things can become more complicated for businesses operating in states that do have rest and lunch break requirements.

Meal and Break Requirements [By State]

In addition to federal law, each state may or may not have its own laws pertaining to employee breaks.

We’ve provided a brief snapshot of 4 different states and what their laws say about employee breaks. If your state is not listed, make sure that you look up what your own state’s laws say and follow them to the letter.

California Employee Break Laws

California is one of only a handful of states that provides both meal and rest breaks. Any employees that work for more than five consecutive hours must be allowed an unpaid lunch break of no less than 30-minutes.

If the employee’s workday is only six hours or less, then they can consent to waive this right through a written statement. Employees who work for 10 hours are entitled to a second 30-minute unpaid break. However, this second break can be waived if the entire workday does not exceed 12 hours.

State law in California also requires employers to provide rest breaks. These are 10-minute rest breaks that must be fully paid and provided once for every four hours worked. When possible, these should be provided in the middle of the work period. Rest breaks do not apply to employees whose entire workday does not exceed three and one-half hours.

Florida Employee Break Laws

There is no Florida law requiring employee lunch breaks.

However, there is an exception to this regarding minor employees. State law requires that minor employees must be provided with a 30-minute break for every four hours worked. Minor employees are defined as anyone under the age of 18. But there are also some exceptions to this. Breaks are not mandatory if:

  • The minor is 16 or 17 years old and has graduated from high school.
  • Minors who are within the required school attendance age limit but hold a valid certificate of exemption.
  • Minors who are enrolled in a public education institution but qualify for a hardship exemption due to economic necessity or a family emergency.
  • Those who are employed in domestic service by their parents

Texas Employee Break Laws

Texas has no general law requiring lunches or breaks no matter how many hours are worked. However, employers are required to provide a 24-hour rest period every seven days.

Washington State Employee Break Laws

Like California, Washington requires employers to provide both rest and lunch breaks.

Employees who work for more than five consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. This must be paid if they are still on duty or required to stay on the premises for the employer’s benefit. Otherwise, the break period is unpaid.

Slightly different rules apply to agricultural workers who are entitled to a second 30-minute break if they work for eleven hours or more in a single day.

Employees are also entitled to paid rest breaks. These must be 10-minute breaks for every four consecutive hours of work, scheduled at or near the midpoint of the work period. It is against the law for any employee to work more than three hours without a rest break.

Should You Give Your Employees Breaks?

Even though some states do not require employers to give employees breaks during the working day, should you do so? This is in your court. 

However, in 2021, when work life balance has more precedence than ever before, we advise you to offer employees some form of break. This will not only make your employees feel valued, it allows your workforce the change to refresh and ultimately produce better work. 

If you want advice about tracking employee breaks or want time and attendance software that’s fully loaded with the latest employee break laws, contact TimeRack today.



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