Like many employees, you likely work long and hard hours at your job. Taking time for a lunch break during your day can revitalize your energy and help you return to work with mindfulness and increased productivity.
Typically, most employers do provide a rest or lunch break, whether paid or unpaid. However, this common practice is not required everywhere.
While federal employment laws do not require that lunch breaks be provided – standards often vary and depend on the state you are employed in.
If you work in a state that does have these requirements, you may be wondering, “Should I get paid for my lunch break?” Read on to find out.
Below, we will explore some important factors that will help us answer the question, “Should I get paid for my lunch break?” As an employee, it is important that you are compensated for your valuable time and effort. Understanding your rights and the regulations of your state are important when deciding if a claim may need to be filed.
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State Laws Vary
Less than half of states require employers to provide a lunch break. In states where they are required, employees who work greater than five or six hours at a time typically must be able to take a half hour period to eat.
In some states, employers are prohibited from allowing this time off close to the beginning or end of the work day.
If you get a meal break or rest, you do not need to be paid for that time if:
- Your state doesn’t require it
- You are completely relieved from work duties
- Your break is more than twenty minutes
If you are expected to eat while you are working, for example – answering phones or sending emails – then you have a right to be compensated for that time.
There are some states that require employers to provide their employees with rest breaks, as opposed to a full lunch. Many of these states designate that employees can take a 10 minute rest break, paid – every four hours.
Other states allow employers to choose between the two – rest breaks or meal breaks – and some only outline time for bathroom trips.
Paid lunch breaks commonly depend on the nature of your break, how long a shift lasts, and how much time is allotted by your employer for the purpose of said break.
Each case hinges on these factors and varies from state to state. If you are unsure which laws apply to you, a list of state meal break laws are available at the Department of Labor’s website.
Examples of a Few State Laws
As we’ve discussed, labor laws can differ between states. Often, like in states such as California, there are many conditions applied to meal and rest breaks.
In others, state law tends to adhere closely to federal regulations, with not much wiggle room in terms of what should be considered paid or unpaid lunch.
Let’s look at a few examples to see just how much states have a say & how important it is to become familiar with your state's unique policies. More detailed information can be found on the Department of Labor website.
Labor Laws stipulate that employers must allow breaks of varying length based on duration and time of an employee's shift.
No state break laws. Federal law applies here.
Labor Law requires that employers provide employees with “restroom time and sufficient time to eat a meal.” The meal break condition only applies when an employee works eight or more consecutive hours. Any break running less than 20 minutes has to be paid. Employees must get restroom breaks within each 4 hours of work.
Employers have to allow employees who work over 5 hours consecutively, to take a meal break for at least 30 minutes. Employers are required to provide employees with a lunch period for six hours in some industries, such as film. Employers and Employees must consent to waive the meal break if they choose to do so.
30 minutes breaks, and no less, are additionally allotted if an employee works over 10 hours in a day. If the total hours worked is not more than 12 hours in a day, the employer and employee can agree to waive the second meal if the first one was not refused. Any such meal break is classified as “hours worked” and the employee must be paid accordingly.
“On Duty” lunch is permitted in certain circumstances. Employers must also let some employees take a net 10-minute paid rest period for every four hours worked. When possible, the rest period should be in the middle of the work day. This does not count toward employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one half (3 1/2) hours. The rest period is classified as time worked and therefore, the employer must pay accordingly.
With certain exceptions, law stipulates that employers cannot make employees work for more than six hours in a given workday without a 30-minute break. Stipulations pertaining to paid and unpaid break periods reflect the stipulations in federal law.
What if I Am Being Forced to Work Through My Break?
If you are being pressured, or forced, to work through your lunch break, or if you are working through your breaks and not being compensated for them, you may be owed lost wages.
You should review your employee handbook, or contract, and any other relevant documents from your employer. If your contract stipulates that you are provided a lunch break, on that break, you should complete no work.
If you’re working while having lunch and you’re paid hourly – you should be paid for that time.
Collecting timesheets, cards, or pay stubs can be helpful in demonstrating how much you worked and the time you were ultimately paid for.
This can act as supporting evidence to indicate how much your pay was shorted in relation to your time and effort spent – without respite.
For example, someone who makes $15/hour would lose approximately $75 a week if their lunch break were to go unpaid. In a year, that could amount to almost $4,000 in lost wages.
For so many, they are not just supporting themselves, but they are often supporting family and loved ones. Losing any wages should be taken seriously and can be extremely detrimental to quality of life.