Labor and Employment

Meals and Rest Periods at Work

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), certain time periods are excluded from compensable hours. That means that the employer does not have to pay the employee for those times. Short rest periods are generally included as hours worked. Meal periods are usually excluded from work time.

Rest periods of 20 minutes or less are generally included as hours worked. Coffee breaks and snack times constitute rest periods rather than meal periods for which compensation is due.

Bona fide meal periods are, by contrast, excluded from work time. Under Department of Labor regulations, a meal period is "bona fide" if the employee is relieved of his or her regular duties for 30 minutes or more to eat a meal. The regulations further provide that if the employee is required to perform any duties–whether active or inactive–while eating, the meal period is not bona fide and the time spent while eating is compensable. Secretaries who are required to eat at their desks and factory workers who are required to eat at their machines are engaged in inactive duties during their meal periods, and are, therefore, entitled to be compensated for such time. Stated differently, under the traditional view, employees who are not ''completely relieved from duty'' during meal periods must be paid for that time.

Recently, the definition of compensable meal periods has been modified to the extent that it requires complete relief from duty. Under the modified test, a meal period is compensable if spent predominantly for the benefit of the employer.

In determining whether meal periods are compensable, courts apply the following factors:

  • Any restrictions placed on the employee during the meal period
  • Whether such restrictions benefit the employer
  • The employee's duties during the meal period, and
  • The frequency of interruption

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does my employer have to pay me for the times that I am "on break"?
  • If I have to work during my lunch time, should I get paid for that time?
  • What kinds of factors apply in determining whether meal periods are compensable?

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