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Am I Legally Entitled to a Lunch Break?

Breaks are often a contested issue in the workplace – so much so that many states have created laws governing how employers must schedule employees. Many employee unions also make breaks a priority when negotiating their contracts. What do you need to know about lunch breaks and other breaks throughout your work day?

Employers are Not Subject to Federal Laws Regarding Breaks during the Work Day

A common misconception is that federal laws guarantee an employee breaks during the work day. At the moment, each state has its own laws and there is no federal law requiring employers to give breaks. So what protection do employees have if their employers are making them work consecutive hours during the work day without a break? It depends.

Some employees are protected by a union agreement. The collective bargaining agreement the union negotiated with the employer will likely contain guidelines concerning breaks and consecutive work hours. For many, breaks are a matter of safety and health, so they are an important part of the union agreement.

Even if you are not in union, there might be state laws governing break time during work days. Twenty states require employees be given meal breaks. The length of break varies among the 20 and are as follows:

One ½ hour break per five hours of work:
• California
• Colorado
• New Hampshire
• North Dakota
• Washington

One ½ hour break after the first two hours and before the last two hours of the work day when an employee is scheduled for 7 ½ hours or more:
• Connecticut
• Delaware

General laws about meal breaks:
• Kentucky
• Maine
• Massachusetts
• Minnesota
• Nebraska
• Nevada
• New York
• Oregon
• Rhode Island
• Tennessee
• Vermont
• West Virginia

Some states have additional laws about rest breaks (California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) which require employers allow employees to rest for 10 minutes every four hours. A few states also have laws concerning “reasonable bathroom breaks.”

Abuses Still Exist

These days, the average employer is reasonable about breaks, even in states that do not require they provide them to employees. They understand that too many hours of consecutive work, especially without stopping to eat, can make an employee underproductive and resentful. It also increases the risk of employee injury and could lead to carelessness that causes injury to others.

Unfortunately, there are still instances in which employers take advantage of the fact there are no laws governing the work day for employees and when they deem it necessary, they force employees to work without breaks.

Though there are limited laws in New York regarding breaks, you might still have legal recourse if your employers is abusing you and your co-workers. Specific details about laws regarding the work day can be found at the New York Department of Labor’s website. The best thing you can do if you believe you are stuck in a job that is working you too hard is to contact an attorney familiar with employment law.

For more information or to discuss your rights concerning your work hours, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a consultation.


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