Rest and Meal Breaks Law and Legal Definition

Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and some state laws, which vary by state, employees may not have time on a rest period deducted from their wages. The FLSA does not require an employer to provide meal periods or rest breaks for their employees. Many employers, however, do provide breaks and/or meal periods. As a general rule, rest breaks are considered hours worked and bona fide meal periods are not considered hours worked.

Some states have laws requiring rest breaks and/or meal periods. Such state requirements will prevail over the silence of the FLSA on this subject. In those situations where an employee is subject to both the FLSA and state labor laws, the employee is entitled to the most generous provisions of each law. Therefore, an employee of a private employer in a particular state who is entitled to a paid break under state law remains entitled to the rest break, even though the FLSA does not require rest breaks.

Even though they are not required by the FLSA, if an employer permits employees to take breaks, they must be counted as hours worked. This includes short periods the employee is allowed to spend away from the work site for any reason. However, unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks ar not required to be counted as hours worked.

To determine whether a break of more than 20 minutes is hours worked, or for more information on breaks in general, please contact your local Wage and Hour District Office. You may also wish to contact your state department of labor for information concerning state laws.

Generally, 30 minutes or more is enough time for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. An employee is not completely relieved from duty if they are required to perform any duties or do any work while eating. This includes inactive or active work. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he or she is completely relieved from duty during the meal period.
The federal regulations on rest periods provides as follows:

"Rest periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry. They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time. They must be counted as hours worked. Compensable time of rest periods may not be offset against other working time such as compensable waiting time or on-call time."