Are Employee Breaks Required?

Must an Employer give all employees a break?  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?  As an employer, you need to be aware of what is required of you, or risk a lawsuit for violating Wage and Hour Compliance regulations.  The typical break schedule is 10 minutes (paid) for every 4 hours worked, however that is not necessarily what is required of you by law.  To determine what is the best Rest Break Policy for your business, consider the following questions:

1. What state are you in? Some states require breaks for Hourly Employees, though most do NOT have any such requirements for adults.  Currently, the federal Department of Labor only lists 9 states that have mandatory break laws for adults: CA, CO, IL, KY, MN, NV, OR, VT, WA.  Most of these impose the following: 10 minutes per every 4 hours of work.   There may be additional regulations for minors or specific industries.  New York, especially, is known for arcane work laws for particular industries (some of which no longer exist).

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

2. Is the employee a minor?  There are usually more regulations concerning the work hours for minors, including type of work done, length of workshift, or even work days.  Visit your specific state’s website to learn the details on these regulations, since they are too varied to list as one of our HR Quick Answers.

3. What is the Federal Law concerning breaks? The federal law does NOT require any breaks from private employers.  What it does require is that any work breaks that are 20 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.  Typical rest breaks are a PAID BREAK.

4. What if my state does not require a break?  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.

5. What about Salary (Exempt) Employees?  Employees who are exempt from overtime, are usually also exempt from break and lunch rules.  Most employers will offer exempt employees the same number of breaks that are given to hourly employees, but that decision is yours to make.

6. How do I establish break rules in writing?  Make sure there is a section in your company employee handbook covering this topic.  Setting your rules in writing helps to prevent any confusion and also makes it easier to enforce your standards.  Need help in designing or updating your employee policies?  See New Wind for employee handbook designing services:

Whether employee breaks are required or not, most employers find that breaks help with productivity.  Encourage employees to use their break times for their personal needs, like phone calls, smoking, snacking, and chatting with one another.

2 thoughts on “Are Employee Breaks Required?

  1. oak gaede

    As far as the way things work, it’s spot-on accurate. The fact that Rush mentions this AT ALL is a huge clue– in radio the cardinal rule is when you flub, you move on and don’t say anything.

  2. Jason Harriman

    The issue of breaks can be contentious. Progressive employers make certain breaks are allocated fairly and consistently, and that employees are allowed proper breaks to avoid high levels of fatigue. Companies that use an employee handbook — and follow it — generally have less problem, as policies and consequences for violating them are clearly spelled out.

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