Are employee breaks required?

Do you have to give your employees a rest break every 4 hours?  How long does the break have to be?  Are breaks paid time or unpaid?  The answer depends on your state.  Even though many states do NOT require breaks, most employers still offer breaks to their employees, giving them the chance to stretch, use the restroom, smoke, snack, or get some fresh air.  You as an employer need to decide if it makes good business sense to provide those breaks.

What about exempt employees?  Employees who are exempt from overtime, are usually also exempt from break and lunch rules.

Federal law: The federal law does NOT require any breaks from private employers.  What it does require is that any work breaks that are 2o minutes or less must be paid.  That is it.  If your state does not have its own break laws, then you go by the federal standards.

State Laws differ.  Currently, the DOL only lists 9 states that have mandatory break laws: CA, CO, IL, KY, MN, NV, OR, VT, WA.  Most of these impose the following: 10 minutes per every 4 hours of work.

Additional Information: The federal Department of Labor provides an excellent summary of the various state regulations:

More Help:  Establish your break rules in writing.  Make sure there is a section in your company employee handbook covering this topic.  Need help in designing or updating your employee policies?  See New Wind for employee handbook designing services:

Employee Handbook designing services

2 thoughts on “Are employee breaks required?

  1. I work as a caregiver for Medicare and Medical and am paid by the state. However, the county of Santa Clara provides the service for the elderly who are disabled. They interview at times the caregivers along with the elderly who needs the help. Any complaints are also brought to the social workers who work with the elderly. The caregivers have a union. However, the caregivers do not have holiday’s paid, nor vacation time, nor sick leave. Actually, as a caregiver we have no benefits other than the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Health plan which covers only the Santa Clara County Hospital and doctors who belong to it. As it usually happens, the elderly can be disgruntled and takes it out on the caregivers. They do this by not allowing caregivers to have a break at all. They decide when and where one gets the break.
    It is demeaning to many of us caregivers who have no recourse when we are told not to have a break.

    1. Christinemarie,

      Sorry to hear about your bad experiences in caregiving. Thank you for sharing your struggles so that others can learn from them. Just a few points on some of these problems.
      1. Breaks: these are MANDATORY in your state (CA). You should get a 10 minute break for every 4 hours worked. You mention that you are unionized, so you might want to talk to your union rep about this problem. Being a government worker does make it a little trickier to enforce the law, but you deserve those breaks.
      2. Holidays, Vacation, and Sick Leave: An employer needs to really consider the value of these benefits to retain and motivate employees. Even though in most parts of the USA these benefits are NOT REQUIRED and are expensive to fund, every employer should consider offering some to motivate staff, especially to reward longevity.

      One final word: Thank you. Thank you for working with the elderly. Sometimes your clients cannot see past their own sorrow/pain/age/depression to see how blessed they are to be getting help. Thanks for being one of those who help.

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