Employees deserve to take a break from their work every now and then. It helps calm down their nerves when their tasks become stressful and energizes them once they feel a little burned out. During breaks, the employees also get to socialize with each other, even with their bosses.
Sadly there are no specific federal laws regarding required meal or rest breaks for employees. However, the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010 stated that employers should give unpaid work breaks to nursing mothers.
There's also the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Sanitation Standard which stated that employers should, "... make toilet facilities available so that employees can use them when they need to do so. The employer may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities." OHSA's Safety and Health Guides also recommended that, "Additional break periods and meals should be provided when shifts are extended past normal work periods."
Other meal and rest break laws of companies are mandated by state laws and by industry standards. For policies that are provided by the employer, it should be regulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Clearly, only the employees of companies that are covered by FLSA, like those that are in interstate commerce, are regulated by these laws.
FLSA states that the one or more short rest breaks that do not exceed 20 minutes allowed by employers must be paid. Breaks of any length are not required by FLSA but the breaks should be paid if they are allowed by the employer. Unauthorized breaks are not paid if employees are prohibited to do such.
Under FLSA, voluntary meal breaks mandated by employers are not paid. However, it should be a bona fide break or one wherein the employee is not working during the meal break, specifically those that last for 30 minutes or more. Otherwise, it is counted as work time which should be paid.
Meal Break/ Rest Break State Laws
Employees who are not covered by FLSA are protected by different state mandated laws, as long as the state they are working in has laws regarding meal and rest breaks. Otherwise, the policy is completely up to the employer.
There are 19 states that require employee meal breaks while seven have provisions regarding rest breaks. Both breaks can also be agreed upon by the employer and the employee union.
Meal break/ rest break claims may be filed if employers violated the FLSA's, the state's or the company policy's regulation regarding employee breaks.