How Long Can You Work Without a Lunch Break?

How Long Can You Work Without a Lunch Break?

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How Long Can You Work Without a Lunch Break?

How long you can work without a lunch break depends on where you live. According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), US employers are not required to provide lunch or coffee breaks. Therefore, employees could work a full day, or even longer, without being legally entitled to a single meal break. 

While some states have made it unlawful to deny workers breaks, others have not. Therefore, depending on your state, you could be entitled to meal breaks. Moreover, if your employer provides breaks lasting 20 minutes or less, you must generally be paid for this time. 

Some employers think they can ignore state and federal laws and exploit their workers without facing the consequences. Morgan & Morgan knows this is wrong. We want to help America’s workers get what they deserve. Our labor lawyers want to hold unethical employers to account. Contact us now to learn about your legal rights in a free case review.  

Lunch Break State Laws

About half of US states follow federal laws and do not mandate lunch breaks for workers. However, according to the US Department of Labor, the states listed below have specific meal break laws and regulations different from federal laws. It is important to note that the guidelines listed are general and that there can be exceptions for specific industries and work circumstances. 


In California, employers must generally provide a thirty-minute break if employees work over five hours daily. However, the employer and employee can agree to waive the meal break if the work day is six hours or shorter.  

Employees working more than 10 hours per day must receive a second meal period of 30 minutes or more. If total hours worked are 12 or less, the second meal break may be waived by mutual consent unless the first meal break was waived. 


If your work shift exceeds five consecutive hours in Colorado, you are entitled to a 30-minute break. An on-duty meal period is permitted when the nature of work demands it. However, any on-duty meal periods should count as time worked.


Employees working 7 ½ consecutive hours or more are generally entitled to a 30-minute meal break after the first 2 hours and before the last 2 hours.


In Delaware, anyone working 7 ½ consecutive hours is entitled to a half-hour break sometime after the first two hours and before the last two hours. 


If you work 7 ½ hours continuously in Illinois, you are entitled to a minimum 20-minute break no later than five hours after starting work. Hotel room attendants are entitled to one 30-minute meal period if they work at least seven hours in the workday.


Employees in the state are entitled to a reasonable break, typically 30-minutes, between the third and fifth hours of work. Shorter break periods are permitted in certain circumstances. Meal breaks do not count as work time. 


Workers in Maine are entitled to 30 minutes after six consecutive hours of work, except in an emergency. 


If you are an employee in Maryland, you are entitled to a minimum 15-minute break for four to six straight work hours or 30 minutes for over six consecutive hours. Employees that are working eight or more consecutive hours qualify for a 30-minute break and additional 15 minutes for every further four consecutive work hours.  


Employees working over six straight hours during a calendar day in Massachusetts qualify for a 30-minute break.


Minnesota law guarantees sufficient unpaid time for employees working eight consecutive hours or more. Coffee and snack breaks less than 20 minutes long count as time worked.


Workers in Nebraska are entitled to a 30-minute break for lunch (off-premises) in each eight-hour shift.


Employees get a 30-minute meal break for eight hours of continuous work.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire workers qualify for a 30-minute break after five hours of work. The exceptions are workers who can eat while on duty and are permitted to do so by their employer. 

New York

Most workers in New York qualify for at least 30 minutes of unpaid time off if they work six hours straight. Factory workers are entitled to an hour’s lunch break during noon. Workers may also be entitled to additional 20-minute breaks.

North Dakota

Workers may take 30 minutes off for their meal break if their shift exceeds five hours. 


As an employee in Oregon, you get a 30-minute break for each work period between six to eight hours. 

Rhode Island

Employees working in Rhode Island qualify for a 20-minute break in a six-hour shift and a 30-minute mealtime in an eight-hour work period.


You qualify for a 30-minute meal break in Tennessee if you work six consecutive hours or more. Employers must not schedule the meal break during or before the first hour of work. 


In Vermont, employers must provide employees with reasonable opportunities during work to eat and use the bathroom facilities.


Employees in Washington are not required to work over five hours straight without a meal break of at least 30 minutes. The break shall be counted as work time if the employee remains on duty. Employees working three or more hours in addition to the regular workday are entitled to another 30-minute break before or during overtime.

West Virginia

West Virginia workers qualify for a 20-minute break if they work 6 hours or more in a workday.

You Could Qualify for Compensation From Your Employer 

Some states require employers to provide certain rest breaks to workers. Generally, if your state allows for 30 minutes of unpaid leave, you may do what you wish during this time and are not required to:

  • Check work emails or answer the phones
  • Help clients and customers
  • Run errands for your employer 

While the laws determining how long you can work without a lunch break differ from state to state, employees may be owed compensation when employers violate wage and hour laws. If your employer refuses meal breaks or fails to pay you for snack breaks of 20-minutes or less, you could potentially have a legal case. 

You May Be Owed Back Pay

An employer might owe you back pay for any missed meal breaks AND the time worked during the skipped break. For example, if your hourly wage is $15 and you had to work during the lunch break, you could be owed $30 ($15 for the missed lunch break and $15 for the hour worked). Small amounts soon add up, especially if you were forced to work through your meal break for months or even years.

Morgan & Morgan believes employers skirting labor laws should not get away scot-free with cheating America’s workers out of their hard-earned money. If you think an employer owes you compensation for wage and hour violations, we want to hear from you.  

Other Cases Morgan & Morgan’s Employment Attorneys Handle

Employers should treat workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. However, in reality, unethical employers steal wages, discriminate against protected groups, and even sexually harass employees. Our labor attorneys can handle all types of employment claims, including: 

Wage and Hour Violation Claims

Wage and hour violations include failing to pay employees for short breaks or denying them a meal break. However, there can be many other circumstances of wage and hour violations, such as: 

Overtime and Minimum Wage 

Employers must pay most workers a minimum wage in line with the current federal amount or higher if state law demands. Workers are also entitled to overtime pay unless they are exempt. Overtime pay is set at one and a half times a worker’s regular compensation for hours exceeding 40 per week. If your employer fails to adhere to minimum wage and overtime pay laws, you could file a claim for back pay.  

Illegal Deductions

If your employer illegally deducts sums for work equipment or uniforms from your paycheck, you could be entitled to compensation. 

Misclassifying Employees 

Some employers deliberately misclassify employees as independent contractors to save payroll and tax expenses. This is illegal. If you are affected, you could seek damages from your employer. 


Discrimination includes adverse employment actions based on a worker’s age, sex, disability, race, or other protected characteristic. Examples of unlawful workplace discrimination include:

  • Lower pay for female workers
  • Screening out certain nationalities or age groups during the recruitment process
  • Refusing reasonable accommodations for disabled workers
  • Excluding older workers from work activities, training, or promotions
  • Firing or demoting pregnant employees

If you are experiencing unlawful discrimination, you do not have to stand for it and suffer in silence. Morgan & Morgan’s determined labor attorneys are here to fight for your rights in the workplace.

Medical and Family Leave Violations

According to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees generally qualify for time off if they experience a significant medical or family event, such as:

  • Childbirth or adoption 
  • A severe medical condition 
  • Temporary disability
  • Caring for a sick family member

After taking family and medical leave, employees are entitled to return to their previous job or an equivalent position with the same pay, benefits, and seniority. 

Wrongful Termination

You might have a wrongful termination claim against a previous employer if you were fired due to: 

  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Breach of employment contract


Most recent charges filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are based on illegal employer retaliation. Employers often retaliate against employees when they engage in a legally protected activity, such as: 

  • Filing a worker’s compensation claim 
  • Filing or assisting with a discrimination claim 
  • Partaking in union activities
  • Whistleblowing 

If your employer retaliated against you, seek legal advice as soon as possible. Our labor lawyers can assess your case, identify your next best steps, and move forward with a claim.

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

Morgan & Morgan

  • Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue My Employer for Lunch Break Violations?

    Labor and employment regulations are complex as they involve various state and federal laws. Employees may not know their full rights or the value of their claim and might end up leaving money on the table. Suing an employer can involve several steps, starting with filing a complaint with the responsible agency in your state or the federal US Department of Labor. Failing to follow the correct procedures could jeopardize your right to compensation.

    Moreover, employers may have a team of lawyers on retainer, ready to fight claims. An experienced attorney can level the playing field and fight tirelessly for every cent you are owed. We can handle your claim from beginning to end and: 

    • Discover all your legal options
    • Calculate your damages such as back pay or missing overtime
    • File an official charge with the relevant state or federal agency
    • Collect evidence to prove your case
    • Negotiate an out-of-court settlement 
    • File a lawsuit against your employer 
  • How Much Does an Employment Lawyer Cost?

    We want America’s workers to have access to the best legal representation possible, regardless of their finances. Therefore, Morgan & Morgan handles employment-related claims on a “no-win-no-fee” basis, which means you do not pay a dime unless and until we recover compensation for you. 

  • Morgan & Morgan Fights for Workers’ Rights

    You may be surprised to discover that how long you can work without a lunch break depends on your state laws and that you may not be entitled to any breaks. However, if your state laws mandate time off for meals and an employer fails to abide by the regulations, you do not have to put up with it. You could be entitled to back pay and other compensation depending on your case.   

    Fighting worker exploitation is a cause close to our hearts. If you experience a violation of your employment rights, our employment lawyers could fight for what you deserve and hold an unscrupulous employer accountable. Contact us today for a free and confidential case review to discover your legal options. 

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