We often receive inquiries about whether employers are required to provide paid meal and rest breaks to employees. The answer is sometimes Yes and sometimes No. It really depends on where the employee works, that is, what state or what locality.
Federal law does not require meal periods or rest breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and considered in determining if overtime was worked. Unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks need not be counted as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer's rules, and any extension of the break will be punished. When a Sequent Professional Employer Service client has requested an Employee Handbook Addendum, a meal and rest break policy is usually one of the policies we recommend.
A few states, namely California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington require employers to allow employees to take rest breaks. With the exception of Minnesota and Vermont, which simply requires employers to give employees enough break time to use the restroom, these laws generally provide that employees can take a ten-minute rest break, with pay, for every four hours they work. A few other states allow employers to choose between giving a meal break or rest breaks.