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Meal and Rest Breaks

Both employers and employees commonly have misunderstandings of meal and rest break laws. However, an employer’s misunderstanding of the law does not excuse any violation.

Unlike in some other states, in New York there is no legal requirement that an employer provide a rest break to any employee. Employees often believe that they are entitled to regular rest breaks, and this is not the case under either state law or federal law. However, employers do frequently grant rest breaks to employees. When an employer allows rest breaks of 20 minutes or less, those breaks must be included as hours worked and must be paid.

Meal breaks are required under state law. Unlike rest breaks, meal breaks do not have to be paid. When a meal break is required, and how long that break must be depend upon the hours the employee has worked and the nature of the work. For factory workers, meal breaks must be 60 uninterrupted minutes, although that period can be shortened to as little as 30 minutes if there is no hardship to the workers. Mercantile (retail) and all other employees must receive a 30 minute meal break. The employee’s meal break must be uninterrupted, and the employee must be allowed to leave his or her workstation. An interrupted meal break – such as requiring the employee to continue answering phones during lunch – must be paid.

For all employees who work a shift of more than six hours that starts before 11:00 a.m. and continues until at least 2:00 p.m., the lunch period must be between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Workers who start a shift before 11:00 a.m. and continue to work until after 7:00 p.m. are entitled to a second meal period, although that meal period need only be 20 minutes long. For those employees who work a shift of more than six hours that starts in the afternoon, evening, or at night, a 45 minute meal period must be provided.

Employers can seek waivers of meal periods. Where there is only one employee on duty, the employee may voluntarily consent to eat on the job without being relieved. Employers can request waivers of meal periods in all other cases, and those waivers must be written and signed by the affected employees. Employers can also seek a meal break waiver from the state Department of Labor; if the waiver is granted, it must be prominently displayed.

Meal break laws can be complex, and meal and rest break cases are often difficult because they are very fact-intensive. It can be difficult for an employee to demonstrate that meal breaks were regularly cut short, and credibility of witnesses is often central to a meal break claim. If you believe you may have a meal or rest break claim, you should contact an experienced New York meal and rest break attorney. At the Law Offices of Friedman & Houlding LLP, we have helped employees resolve their employment law issues for over 20 years. Several of our attorneys have specifically handled many meal and rest break claims, and we can advise you of your rights and represent you before the Department of Labor and in any civil lawsuit. For a free confidential consultation, call our office today at (888) 369-1119.