Meal Breaks & Rest Breaks

Although many employees don’t realize this, you have rights when it comes to meal breaks and rest breaks.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

Federal law governing rest and meal breaks can be found in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Strangely, the FLSA does not actually require these breaks to be offered in the first place. However, most employers offer them anyway, and, when they do, this triggers certain FLSA rules and requirements.

You may not extend your break or meal times without employer authorization. And while there’s nothing in the law that prevents you from taking a shorter break, many employers prohibit this because it can create an appearance that they are not offering full-length breaks.

Short Rest Breaks

A rest of 5 to 20 minutes qualifies as a “short break” and must be counted as paid time. This also counts toward your hour counts when it comes to overtime and paid time off.

You can use short breaks to conduct personal business like using your phone, getting a soda, or having a smoke. Many employers provide a break room where employees can be physically separated from their working space.

Meal Breaks

The FLSA rules for meal breaks are complicated, but the main takeaway is that these breaks are typically 20 minutes to an hour, and you do not get paid for this time, nor does it count toward overtime or paid time off.

During this break, you must be “completely relieved of duty,” or else it doesn’t count as a meal break and must be treated as paid time. This means that, no matter what happens, you have a right to take that time off.

Longer Shifts and Sleep Breaks

For extremely long shifts, additional FLSA rules apply.

If you work a long shift under 24 hours, you and your employer may agree that you will have sleep breaks, during which time you will be on-call. These breaks must be paid and must be at least five hours.

For a shift of 24 hours or longer, all of your sleep must be paid. Your meal breaks must also be paid.

State Laws

Many states have their own laws that expand employee rights when it comes to meal and rest breaks.

In California, the law is fairly complicated in its provisions and exceptions, but the short version is that, in most cases, you have the right to a 10-minute paid rest break for each 4 hours you work, and these breaks must be spaced apart rather than clumped together (unless you and the employer agree in writing to something else). You also have a right to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes every five hours. During both types of breaks, you have the right to leave the premises. These breaks must also be uninterrupted.

Contact Shegerian & Associates to Discuss Your Situation

If you have a situation at work where you’re not being provided break times, or aren’t being paid for break times that should be paid, you need to speak to one of our qualified employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates.

We’ll help you understand the legal rights and options in your specific situation, and, if any violations of the law have been committed, we are fierce in fighting for our clients’ rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.