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Should I Get Paid for My Lunch Break?

Should I Get Paid for My Lunch Break?

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Should I Get Paid for My Lunch Break?

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. 

When you need legal representation, reach out to America’s best law firm: Morgan & Morgan. Our skilled team has years of experience recovering compensation for victims of unfair labor practices.

As an employee, you always deserve respect, dignity, and fair treatment. Complete the easy-to-use contact form on our website today. Our friendly staff will schedule a no-cost and no-obligation legal consultation for you.

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.

New York

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. 

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Morgan & Morgan

  • What if I Have an Unpaid Lunch Break, but It Is Often Interrupted?

    Under federal and some state laws, your unpaid lunch break must be counted as hours worked if you are regularly interrupted by your employer. That time is yours. You should be paid for those minutes if they are taken from you.

    If you and your co-workers are not being paid for frequently interrupted lunch periods or short breaks, you may have a class action lawsuit against your company.

    At Morgan & Morgan, our experienced attorneys know how the legal system works when it comes to unpaid breaks and other work-related wage and hour violation claims. Reach out to one of our trusted lawyers to schedule your free consultation today.

  • Do Different Rules Apply Depending on the Job You Work?

    In some cases, yes. For example, factory workers in NY state are entitled to a 60-minute lunch break between 11 am and 2 pm as well as a 60-minute meal break at the time midway through the designated shift, if the shift is 6 hours or more and begins between 1 pm and 6 am.

    For non-factory workers in NY state, the conditions are adjusted and lunch breaks can range from 30-45 minutes, depending on the shift and time worked.

    As we’ve learned, regulations tend to exhibit many differences between states. Here, we see that it can sometimes depend on the industry and line of work you are employed in. 
    If you feel you are owed compensation for lost wages, reach out and discuss the details of your case with one of our experienced attorneys at Morgan & Morgan. We will review your case and provide you with the trustworthy legal guidance you need.

  • Premier Labor Law Attorneys at Morgan & Morgan

    You should not have to fight for compensation you have earned. If you feel you have suffered from improper work conditions and have lost wages related to your designated meal break, you may be entitled to compensation.
    Reach out to the firm at Morgan & Morgan for the best legal representation available. As America’s largest personal law firm, we have recovered more than $15 billion in compensation for our clients.
    Complete the simple contact form on our website to arrange a free consultation to discuss the facts of your malpractice case. The legal experts at Morgan & Morgan will fight diligently for you!

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Last updated on May 11, 2023

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