Meal and rest (break) periods continue to be a question in the workplace.  These laws can be confusing, based on shift start and hours worked.  Certain states statues or regulations remain silent on defining meal and break periods, which means they follow federal guidelines.  However, New York State, has unique laws and regulations on meal and rest periods.  Regardless of the laws, organizations should err on the side of caution and provide breaks that are most beneficial to the employee.  Breaks and rest periods are good for both the individual and employer.  Set the time for breaks and lunches and hold employees accountable to follow the guidelines on meal and rest periods. 

The 4 meal and rest requirements in New York State[i]:

Covered EmployeesDurationAdditional ProvisionsExemptions
Factory workers are entitled to two meal breaks for all shifts of more than six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and lasting more than six hours.At least 60 minutes each.The first lunch break must be between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.; the second meal break must be at the time midway between the beginning and end of the shift.An employer can apply to the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor for shorter meal periods. These applications will be granted only if the Commissioner investigates the situation and finds such modifications are warranted by special circumstances.
Non-factory workers are entitled to a lunch break for shifts six hours or longer that extend over that period.At least 30 minutes.Between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. 
Non-factory workers also are entitled to a meal break for all shifts of more than six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.At least 45 minutes.The meal break must be provided at the midpoint of the employees’ shifts. 
All workers are entitled to an additional meal break for workdays that extend from before 11:00 a.m. to after 7:00 p.m.At least 20 minutes.The meal break must be provided between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. 

Bonus meal and rest requirements in Pennsylvania[i]:

Covered EmployeesDurationAdditional ProvisionsExemptions
Minors who have worked for five continuous hours are entitled to a rest break.At least 30 minutes.No period of less than 30 minutes shall be deemed to interrupt a continuous period of work.N/A

Federal Law:
“An employer faces a complicated web of state and federal laws involving break periods. Determining whether an employer must provide break periods and, if so, whether employees must be paid for that time, can prove difficult:

  • The federal FLSA does not require an employer to provide meal breaks or rest breaks to employees, but many states’ laws do.
  • The federal FLSA does require an employer to provide employees who are nursing mothers with breastfeeding breaks, as many states’ laws do.
  • Although the federal FLSA does not require an employer to pay employees for meal and rest breaks, as long as certain conditions are met, some states do require payment.”[ii]

Additional resources:
Meal and Rest Break Policy
It is the policy of [Company Name] to comply with state and federal laws regarding meals and breaks.

Rest periods
All employees are permitted a 15-minute paid rest break for each four-hour work period. Breaks are not permitted at either the beginning or end of the workday to offset arrival and departure times. Employees who voluntarily work through their rest breaks will not be paid additional compensation.

Meal periods
All employees who work eight or more hours in a day are required to take an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes. Meal breaks are not counted toward hours worked.

Employees are to be completely relieved from duty during their meal break. If a nonexempt employee is required to perform any work duties while on his or her meal break period, the employee must be compensated for the time spent performing work duties. The time spent working during the meal break will be counted toward the total hours worked.

Managers are responsible for the scheduling of meal and rest periods. Employees who fail to return on time from breaks or lunch will be subject to disciplinary action and docking of pay for time missed.
(SHRM Draft Policy, please review state laws prior to implementation)

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