Meal Breaks and Rest Breaks
Non-agricultural workers have the right to a ten-minute break for every four hours of work. That means any shift less than four hours should allow you to take one rest break, shifts between four and eight hours should allow two rest breaks, and so on. Rest breaks must be scheduled so that you never work more than three hours in a row without a break. These rest breaks must be paid for by the employer. They cannot deduct the time from your wages!
Although an employer can keep you at the worksite, they must allow you completely stop doing your work. This is an opportunity to do things like use the restroom, go to the water fountain, eat a snack, stretch your legs, go to the break room and sit down, or make personal phone calls. The rest break does not have to be ten-continuous minutes if your job allows you to do these sorts of activities for ten or more minutes every four hours. For example, some office jobs allow you to step away and attend to personal business, as necessary. In circumstances like those, the employer does is not required to give you ten minutes back-to-back.
Agricultural workers have a similar right to a ten-minute rest period for every four hours of work. However, the three-hour rule and the intermittent-break rule do not apply to agricultural workers.
Non-agricultural workers who work a shift of more than five hours have the right to take a thirty-minute meal break between the second and fifth hour of the shift. The worker has the right to an additional thirty-minute meal period whenever they would be required to work five more hours after the last meal period.
For example, if Joe's work shift starts at 8:00 AM and ends at 5:00 PM, his employer must allow him to take a meal break between 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM. The employer can choose when to schedule the meal break. If Joe takes his meal break from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM, then he should receive another thirty-minute meal period before 4:30 PM to prevent him from working five hours without a meal period. His employer could have avoided the two meal breaks by scheduling Joe's first meal break for 12:00 PM instead of 11:00 AM.
The employer does not have to pay for meal periods unless the worker must remain "on duty." For example, Jane's employer can require her to eat her meals at her desk so that she can answer the phone. But since she is on duty, they must pay her for this meal break. The break must still be paid even if Jane doesn't have to answer any calls during that time.
The rules for agricultural workers are slightly different. An agricultural worker who works five or more hours must be allowed to take a thirty-minute meal break. An agricultural worker who works eleven or more hours must be allowed to take another thirty-minute meal break. The meal breaks must allow the worker to be completely relieved from duty. They are also unpaid.
If an ag worker is going to work more than five hours, the law requires the employer to provide the worker with a thirty-minute meal period before the end of five hours. Then, if the ag worker will work more than eleven hours, the law requires the employer to provide the worker with another thirty-minute meal period before the end of eleven hours.
How do employers violate these laws? It is common for shady employers to deduct the ten-minute rest periods from a worker's timecard. This is unlawful since the rest breaks must be paid by the employer. Another way these laws are violated is when the employer requires a worker to remain on-duty during meal breaks but doesn't pay the worker for it. Yet another way employers violate these laws is by only providing the rest breaks or meal breaks sometimes or never at all.
These claims are fact-specific and require an experienced lawyer to review the evidence. If you think you may have been denied meal breaks or rest breaks or not paid for rest breaks or not paid for meal breaks when you were on-duty, call Pechtel Law to discuss your rights and options with an experienced attorney.