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Can Your Boss Refuse To Let You Take Breaks or Lunches?

You’ve been working for hours and need to get outside for fresh air and to stretch. Your boss says you can’t. Is it legal for your boss to refuse to let you take breaks?

Per federal laws, your boss isn’t required to provide break time in most situations. It’s up to your state whether you’re allowed breaks or not and only a handful have laws in place. Federal law requires employers to give nursing mothers time to express milk. That same law requires the employer to provide a clean, safe place (no bathrooms) that’s free of co-worker or client interruption. This law is in place for one year after the child’s birth. That time doesn’t have to be paid.

Where Do the Laws Stand?

While federal laws may not offer much protection, a handful of states have their own labor laws regarding breaks. Here’s a quick guide to the different laws regarding the different kinds of breaks in the U.S.

State Laws Regarding Breaks/Coffee Breaks:

  • California – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked with additional time for strenuous work within the motion picture industry. Dancers are one of the exceptions where additional time may be allowed.
  • Colorado – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked for people in specific industries like retail, service, and medical. Breaks are not required for people in administrative roles, outside sales, and domestic employees.
  • Illinois – Two 15-minute breaks for hotel room attendants as long as their shift is 7 hours or longer. The hotel or other establishment must be within a county with more than 3 million residents.
  • Kentucky – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. Employees who are protected by the Federal Railway Labor Act are excluded.
  • Minnesota – Adequate time to use a restroom for every 4 hours worked and those breaks must be paid if they’re less than 20 minutes. Workers protected by a union contract or who are seasonal or agricultural employees may be excluded.
  • Nevada – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. The workplace must have at least two employees on duty.
  • Oregon – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked for all employees except those protected by a union contract or who work alone.
  • Vermont – Adequate time to use a bathroom and get food and beverages in any business where there is more than one employee.
  • Washington – A paid break of 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. Workers who are domestic laborers, union workers, or newspaper vendors/carriers may be excluded.

State Laws Regarding Lunch or Meal Breaks:

Lunch or meal breaks are covered by different state laws. Again, not every state has a law covering meal breaks. These states do.

  • California – 30 minutes if you work at least 5 hours. Two meal breaks must be given for employees who work more than 10 hours. If a shift is less than 12 hours, the employer and employee may agree to skip the second meal break.
  • Colorado – 30 minutes when 5 hours or longer are worked.
  • Connecticut – 30 minutes in the first two hours and 30 minutes in the last two hours when 7 ½ hours or longer are worked.
  • Delaware – 30 minutes in the first two hours and 30 minutes in the last two hours when 7 ½ hours or longer are worked.
  • Illinois – A minimum of 20 minutes must be taken within the first 5 hours or a shift of 7 ½ hours or longer. Hotel room attendants get a 30-minute meal break when they work at least 7 hours.
  • Kentucky – A 30-minute break between the third and fifth hours of work that cannot be counted as a coffee break. Shorter meal breaks are allowed in certain situations.
  • Maine – A 30-minute meal break after 6 consecutive hours of work.
  • Maryland – Retail workers get a 15-minute break after 4 to 6 consecutive hours of work or 30 minutes after 6 consecutive hours are worked. If the shift is at least 8 hours, employees get a 30-minute meal break and 15-minute breaks for every additional 4 consecutive hours. The store must have more than 50 workers for these rules to apply.
  • Massachusetts – A 30-minute meal break as long as more than 6 hours are worked that day. Workers in dyeing/bleaching, glassworks, ironworks, paper mills, printing presses, and some other mechanical industries are excluded.
  • Minnesota – Adequate unpaid time for workers who work more than 8 consecutive hours. If the break is less than 20 minutes, it must be paid.
  • Nebraska – A 30-minute meal break that allows employees to leave the premises must be provided during an 8-hour shift.
  • Nevada – A 30-minute meal break for shifts of 8 hours or longer as long as the employer has two or more employees.
  • New Hampshire – A 30-minute meal break after 5 consecutive hours unless the worker can eat while doing his or her job.
  • New York – A 60-minute meal break at noon for workers in factories. A 45-minute meal break for workers in other fields who work more than 6 hours and start their shift between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m. A 30-minute noon break for employees working more than 6 hours. An extra 20 minutes for workers who started before 11 a.m. and are still working after 7 p.m., and that extra break must be taken between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • North Dakota – A 30-minute meal break after 5 consecutive hours of work.
  • Oregon – A 30-minute meal break for 6 to 8 hours of work with the break taken between the 2nd and 5th hours if the shift is 6 or 7 hours or between the 3rd and 6th hours if the shift is more than 7 hours.
  • Rhode Island – Any worker working 6 or 7 hours gets a 20-minute meal break. Workers working 8 hours get a 30-minute meal break.
  • Tennessee – A 30-minute meal break after 6 consecutive hours of work.
  • Vermont – Workers get adequate time to eat and stay hydrated.
  • Washington – A 30-minute meal break if the shift is 5 hours or longer and an extra 30 minutes if the shift extends at least 3 hours beyond the normal workday.
  • West Virginia – A 20-minute meal break after 6 hours of work.

One thing to remember is that your employer may opt to give breaks even if not required to by law. You’re also entitled to protections through the ADA if you have health conditions like diabetes that require breaks to check your blood sugar levels or to inject insulin.

It never hurts to ask what your employer does offer. Your employer may be willing to accommodate your needs for a break.

Where Does That Leave You?

In California, you’re covered by the state laws for both regular “rest or coffee” breaks and meal breaks. If these breaks would cause “undue hardship,” your employer may qualify for an exemption from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, but exemptions are only given if it will not affect your comfort or welfare.

Seek the advice of an expert in California employment laws. If you’re being denied, it’s time to talk to an attorney who specializes in labor laws. Shegerian Conniff helps you understand your rights and can walk you through the next steps to take to ensure you’re treated fairly when it comes to breaks during your work shift. Don’t give up hope. Call our employment law experts and schedule a free consultation.

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