Do I have to give employees a lunch break?

Employers have many questions concerning meal breaks: Are you required to give an employee a lunch break?  Is it only for those who work 8 hours?  How long should an employee lunch be?  30 minutes?  1 hour?  Should it be paid or not paid? 

Did you know that only 20 states require private employers to give adult employees a meal period?  The majority of states have NO lunch break requirement for adults in the private sector (though 34 states have laws about meal periods for minors). 

Federal law:  The federal government does not require private companies to offer lunch breaks.  However, if a break is 20 minutes or less, it must be paid.   To avoid violating this law, most employers set unpaid lunches at 30 minutes or longer.  If someone clocks back in a little early you will not be in violation of the federal law.

State Laws:  If your state regulates meal periods, it often sets requirements for how long someone can work before getting a lunch (5 or 6 hours).   Currently, the states that do require a lunch break are CA, CO, CT, DE, IL, KY, ME, MA, MN, NE, NV, NH, NY, ND, OR, RI, TN, VT, WA, and WV.  In New York they even specify what time of day the lunch has to happen.  The Department of Labor offers an excellent summary of the various state laws (which can get confusing):

Exempt Employees:  Often rest break and meal period rules do not apply to salaried- exempt employees.  See the DOL link above for details.

Get your policies in writing: It is essential for most businesses to get your policies like breaks and lunches in writing.  Do you have an employee handbook that states your policy on rest breaks and meal periods?  Uncertain how to set that up?  See New Wind for employee handbook designing services:

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