Many employers offer rest breaks. Do they have to offer them? Federal law does not mandate that employers offer meal breaks or rest breaks. Bona fide meal breaks are usually at least 30 minutes long and have a different function than a rest break. However, some states do require rest breaks.
California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington require employers to allow employees to take rest breaks. Most but not all of the states that require rest breaks permit at least a 10-minute rest break with pay for every four hours worked for non-exempt employees. Non-exempt employees are typically employees who work for an hourly wage, rather than a salary. However, some salaried workers are considered non-exempt as well. Some states allow employers to choose between giving non-exempt employees a meal break or a rest break.
Short breaks (generally 20 minutes or less) are compensable under federal law.
Some employees are unaware that when employers do offer short breaks of between 5-20 minutes, federal law considers these breaks compensable for purposes of determining the number of hours worked in a single workweek and calculating overtime. If your employer does not know this and has not been compensating you for overtime related to rest times, you may want to consult an employment and labor law attorney.
The remedy for failing to give employees rest breaks varies from state to state depending on the laws of that state. In California, for example, an employer must give an employee at least a 10-minute paid break for each four-hour block that is worked. Employees who work 3.5 hours or less do not require a break. The remedy for a rest period violation is one additional hour of pay. You must file a claim within three years of the violation. In many cases, the amount that you would be able to recover is not substantial enough to warrant an individual lawsuit, but a class action lawsuit may be appropriate.
What if you decide to take a longer break than what your employer authorized? If your employer has explicitly told you that a break can last for only a specific length of time and cannot be extended, this break will not be compensated time.
Breaks for Nursing Mothers
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that covers wage and hour issues. Section 7 was amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Affordable Care Act”), requiring employers to give their non-exempt employees reasonable break time so that an employee can express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. Employers must provide some place for a mother pumping milk, besides a bathroom, that is shielded from view by coworkers or the public.
This law became effective in 2010 and covers all employers covered by FLSA, unless they have fewer than 50 employees and can show that complying with this provision would prove an undue hardship. About half of the states have laws related to nursing mothers expressing milk in the workplace for their new babies.
Breaks for Babies
Under the Fair Labor Standard Act employers must allow breaks for nursing mothers to express their breast milk. Employers must also grant a reasonable amount of time to do this and private space (i.e., not a bathroom) in which to do it.
Do Different Rules Apply to Minors’ Rest Breaks?
While most states do not require employers to give rest breaks, many require employers to give rest breaks or meal breaks to child employees. Certain states give breaks only to minors who are 15 or younger, while other states give breaks to all minors under the age of 18.