Meal and Rest Breaks at Work

"Don't underestimate the power of resting. It builds you back, unlike anything."

― Hiral Nagda

Taking breaks, whether meal breaks or other rest breaks, is not just a legal duty but also a vital part of maintaining a high-productivity workplace with healthy and content employees. These breaks are not just a pause in work but a time for employees to recharge, refocus, and rejuvenate, leading to increased productivity and overall well-being.

As an employer in the United States, it's essential to not only be aware of federal laws regarding labor but also to understand the state laws that may indicate additional employee rights. This knowledge will not only keep you compliant but also ensure that you are providing the best working conditions for your employees.

While there is no federal provision mandating employers to offer lunch or rest breaks, it's common practice to provide those through the company's break policies to show employees that management values them and wants high morale around the workplace.

This article is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about break time in the United States. From understanding the types of breaks to navigating specific state laws, creating a break policy, and even a useful template, we've got you covered. And if you still have questions, our Q&A section is here to help.

Read on to discover:

  • What is a lunch break?
  • Types of breaks
  • Federal break laws
  • Break policies
  • FAQs

1. What is a lunch break?

A break(either a meal or a rest break) is a period of time during your day at work when you can stop working and eat, drink beverages, use the restroom, relax, and de-stress. The obvious reason for taking breaks is to recharge, add more energy for the rest of the day, and avoid fatigue and burnout.

We will address every type of break individually, but as a big difference, you should know that meal breaks are usually longer than rest breaks, and they are unpaid, as opposed to rest breaks that are considered part of your workday.

2. Federal break laws

What does federal law instruct regarding breaks? We need to look closely at the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is the essential provision to be taken into account. The FLSA provides guidelines for minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor, as well as for break policies. Understanding the FLSA is crucial for employers and employees to ensure they are following the law.

Here, you can find the definitions of rest and meal breaks, but the most important thing to remember is that the FLSA does not mandate that employers supply lunch or coffee breaks.

However, if employers do decide to provide short breaks(5 to 20 minutes), they will be considered compensable work and part of the workweek. Meal breaks(around 30 minutes) serve a different purpose and are not paid.

While federal law does not impose anything on employers, it's important to note that some states' laws will definitely. These specific rules are often based on factors such as the number of hours worked or the industry. It's important to comprehend the differences between federal and state laws to ensure compliance within the business.

You must always remember that every state regulating rest breaks will also regulate meal breaks.

Let's see what are the states that mandate specific rules for breaks:

For more information, don't hesitate to read more here.


Rest Break Rule

Meal Break Rule


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period (in the middle of the work period, if possible).

30 minutes if the work shift is for more than 5 hours per day.


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period (in the middle of the work period, if possible).

30 minutes if the work shift is for more than 5 consecutive hours.



30 minutes after the first 2 hours and before the last 2 hours for employees who work 7 ½  consecutive hours or more.



30 minutes after the first 2 hours and before the last 2 hours for employees who work 7 ½  consecutive hours or more.


2 paid 15-minute rest periods each workday of at least 7 hours to all hotel room attendants.

At least 20 minutes, no later than 5 hours after the start of an employee’s 7 ½-hour or more workday.

Employers must give a 30-minute meal period to hotel room attendants who work at least 7 hours.


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period.

Reasonable off-duty period (typically 30 minutes) after 3 hours of work and before 5 hours of work. 

The meal break period does not count as time worked. Do not count coffee and snack breaks as meal periods.



A 30-minute break after 6 consecutive hours.



Employers must provide meal breaks based on the number of consecutive hours an employee works:

4-6 hours: 15-minute break

More than 6 hours: 30-minute break 

8 or more hours: 30-minute break + 15-minute breaks for every additional 4 consecutive hours worked



A 30-minute break for workdays more than 6 hours.


Paid adequate rest period (less than 20 minutes) for each 4-hour work period for restroom breaks.

Sufficient unpaid time if the employee works 8 consecutive hours or more.



30-minute lunch break (off-premises) per 8-hour shift.


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period (in the middle of the work period, if possible).

A 30-minute break for employees who work 8 consecutive hours.

New Hampshire


A 30-minute break after 5 consecutive work hours unless the employee is able to eat while working.

New York


Employers must provide meal breaks as follows:

1 hour noonday period (factory workers)

30-minute noonday period for employees who work more than 6 hours over the noonday meal period (all other industries)

Additional 20 minutes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. for employees who start a shift before 11 a.m. and work past 7 p.m.

45-minute break (1 hour in factories) midway in an employee’s shift for those working more than a 6-hour period that starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m.

North Dakota


30-minute break (if desired) for employees who work more than 5 hours.


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period (in the middle of the work period, if possible).

30-minute break for each work period of 6-8 hours; requirements on when to take break depend on work hours.

Rhode Island


20-minute mealtime for 6-hour shifts and 30-minute mealtime for 8-hour shifts.



A 30-minute break for employees scheduled to work 6 or more consecutive hours.


Reasonable opportunities during work to eat and use toilet facilities.

Reasonable opportunities during work to eat and use toilet facilities.


Paid 10-minute rest period for each 4-hour work period (in the middle of the work period, if possible). 

Employers can’t require employees to work more than 3 hours without a rest period.

A 30-minute break for employees who work more than 5 consecutive hours, given after the employee’s 2nd hour and before their 5th hour at work. The break counts as work time if the employee must remain on-duty and on-premises. 

Additional 30 minutes for employees working 3 or more hours beyond a regular workday.

West Virginia


A 20-minute break for employees who work 6 or more hours.


3. Types of breaks

Meal breaks

As mentioned above, only some state laws, not federal ones, impose on employers to provide meal breaks.

A meal break typically lasts 30 minutes or more, and it's an excellent way for employees to relax, recharge, and, therefore, become more productive.

The rule is that employees are not reimbursed for meal breaks. However, be aware that if the employee does any work during the meal break, you will have to pay them. They can do any type of work, even send emails or answer the phone.

Rest breaks

Similar to the first category, federal law does not mandate any rest breaks to be offered, but some state laws do.

A rest break usually lasts up to 20 minutes, and employees are to be paid for it.

There are some exceptions, though. That being said, employers will not have to pay for the rest break if they previously explained to the employee that:

  • Authorized breaks may only last for a particular time,
  • Any extension of the break is against your regulations, AND
  • Any further break extensions will be penalized.

Breaks for young employees

Many states have special rules for young employees-minors below 18 years old. These rules often include specific requirements for breaks, such as a certain number of rest breaks per shift or a longer meal break. It's important for employers to be aware of and follow these rules when employing young workers.

Health issue breaks

There are cases when an employee's medical condition requires him to take more small breaks. If the employee is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers need to offer reasonable accommodation. This means making adjustments to accommodate the employee's needs unless this would cause the employer undue hardship(such as difficulty or expense).

Even if the accommodation will be expensive, the employer could sit down with the employee and see how a compromise can be reached.

Cigarette breaks

Usually, employees who smoke will want to take more breaks. No law allows this, but they can take rest breaks for this purpose. If employers allow smoke breaks for a maximum of 20 minutes, they must pay for those breaks.

If the break is not authorized, no reimbursement is due.

Bathroom breaks

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that is required by law to provide restroom breaks. Under OSHA, employees need to have access to toilet facilities, and they cannot be forced to use them following a certain schedule. This is a basic requirement for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, and employers must ensure that they are in compliance with this law.

Nursing mothers breaks

According to the FLSA, nursing mothers must be provided with a private place other than the bathroom to express breast milk for a year after the child is born. This is a basic requirement for employers, and they must ensure that they are providing a suitable space for breastfeeding.

As per FLSA, employers do not need to pay for these breaks if they are separate from the paid ones, but you should also check state laws.

Religious practice breaks

If employees ask for extra breaks to practice their religion, you should discuss this and see what accommodation is possible, as long as it does not cause undue hardship for you as the employer. In this case, undue hardship has to be shown as a substantial burden in the overall context of an employer's business.

4. Break policies

Creating your employee break policy will reduce the confusion among your employees, and it's a great factor in offering transparency.

What should be included in your company's break policy?

  • Specific types of breaks, such as meal, rest, bathroom, and breastfeeding breaks, with their respective extent
  • A clear distinction between paid and unpaid breaks
  • Provisions for special circumstances, like mandatory breaks(in particular states or industries), working during breaks, and breaks for minors.

After designing your policy, make sure to:

  • Communicate the rules to employees very clearly
  • Add your policy to your business's employee handbook and get their signature for acknowledgment

Company Breaks Policy Template

If you still need help with how to start, here is a template for a break policy that you can customize for your company.

Company Breaks Policy Template

5. FAQs

How many breaks should employees get in an eight-hour shift?

States that impose the existence of specific breaks usually require a 30-minute lunch break(or another meal) for every 6 hours worked. For a shift of 8 hours, the employee should also receive additional breaks between 5 and 20 minutes to rest.

Can an employee choose not to take a lunch break?

Yes, but they will be paid for this time by the employer.

What's the longest an employee can work without a break?

An employee can work up to 6 hours in a row with a break(if your state law does not impose fewer hours). When working more than 6 hours, every employee should be able to rest or have a meal. Make sure you implement a clear break policy in your company.

How many breaks can an employee take in a 12-hour shift?

Employees who work more than 10 hours in a shift are entitled to a second 30-minute break.

In conclusion, ensure that your company adheres to all federal and state laws regarding breaks. If the union decides on more breaks, remember to implement those, too.