Hi, if you want free updates from my blog, you can enter your email address here.

Lunch Labor Laws – Federal and State

lunch labor laws

My original post on lunch break laws still remains one of the most popular articles on this blog. Many people are highly interested in lunch labor laws, as evidenced by the 98 comments that are still being posted.

Lunch labor laws affect us all

If you’re human, you have to eat. If you have a job, you’ll probably work several hours during the day, most likely across the normal lunch time. Thus, you probably wonder about lunch labor laws.

Hourly workers are most concerned about the law regarding their lunch breaks, but I routinely receive many questions from salaried workers as well. And interestingly, a Zogby study found that 90% of salaried workers held an hourly job at one time in their life.

As you can see, lunch break labor laws are a key topic for everyone.

No federal lunch break

You may be surprised to learn that there is no lunch break federal requirement. The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require that your employer give you a lunch break.

Fact Sheet #22 explains this further.

Lunch break paid?

Federal law also does not require that your lunch breaks be paid. Generally speaking, if you are completely relieved from work duties for 30 minutes or more, you do not have to be paid for that time.

This rule makes sense, if you think about it. Most workers don’t expect to be paid for their lunch time. But if you are not relieved from duty, your employer must compensate you. That doesn’t really count as a lunch break, does it?

State lunch labor laws

But there’s still hope for some of you. Many states have passed laws regarding lunch break requirements. If you work in one of those states, your employer has to make sure that he complies with the state regulations.

Here is a summary of the individual state lunch labor laws. Note that not all industries are required to comply with these regulations in each state.

California – 1/2 hour after 5 hours worked, unless shift is only 6 hours

Colorado – 1/2 hour after 5 hours worked, unless shift is only 6 hours

Connecticut – if shift is 7.5 hours, 1/2 hour lunch after first 2 hours but before last 2 hours

Delaware – if shift is 7.5 hours, 1/2 hour lunch after first 2 hours but before last 2 hours

Illinois – required for hotel room attendants only

Kentucky – reasonable meal period between 3rd and 5th hour of shift

Maine – 1/2 hour after 6 consecutive hours

Massachusetts – 1/2 hour, if work is more than 6 hours

Minnesota – reasonable period, if shift is 8+ consecutive hours

Nebraska – 1/2 hour, off premises, at suitable lunch time

Nevada – 1/2 hour, if work is 8 consecutive hours

New Hampshire – 1/2 hour, after 5 consecutive hours – unless employee can eat while working

New York – 1/2 hour, if shift is more than 6 hours

North Dakota – 1/2 hour, if work is more than 5 hours

Oregon – 1/2 hour

Rhode Island – 20 minutes for 6 hour shift; 30 minutes for 8 hour shift

Tennessee – 1/2 hour, if shift is 6 hours

Washington – 1/2 hour, for 5 hour shift

West Virginia – 20 minutes, if work is more than 6 consecutive hours

If you have questions about your individual state, you should contact your state’s department of labor. Here is a link to each state’s labor website:

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

If I didn’t cover your question above, feel free to post a comment below.

Photo by rockygirl05

Get more legal tips

Sign-up below to receive my bi-monthly email newsletter with free legal tips. All fields are required.

See also...


38 Responses to “Lunch Labor Laws – Federal and State”

  1. Beth
    September 3rd, 2008

    What if the employee does not want a break and wants to work through lunch, as long as we are compensated, that is legal, correct?

  2. Andrew Flusche
    September 3rd, 2008

    @Beth – This answer could depend upon your specific state’s laws. It’s probably ok to let employees work through lunch (as long as they are paid for the time). But some employers might choose the cautious side and always require lunch breaks, even if the employee would rather keep working. Then there’s no room to claim that someone wasn’t allowed to take lunch.

  3. [...] employees always want to know about their rights to a lunch break. Heck, lunch is important to me [...]

  4. Rita
    October 23rd, 2008

    Is it legal to write someone up, that only had a 5 hour shift and clocked out a few minutes late, because they didn’t take a luch break? That is what is happening at our work place. Even if we clock out 1 minute after a 5 hour shift, and didn’t take a lunch.

  5. Andrew Flusche
    October 23rd, 2008

    @Rita – There simply isn’t enough information here to determine what’s going on. I suggest that you contact your state’s labor department. They might can give you some guidance.

  6. Beth
    October 23rd, 2008


    What are they writing you up for? Staying over one minute after your shift? I have never heard of that. Most companies offer you seven minutes each way. What state is this?

  7. Brian
    November 26th, 2008

    What if I work an 8 hour day, but take my lunch break after I’ve worked 5 hours? This is in CA. My company has started paying me an extra hour every time I don’t take lunch before 5 hours. Are they required to do that? I’ve been at the same company for 2 years now and they’ve just started doing this. Would they be required to compensate me for all the times I’ve gone over 5 hours for the past 2 years?

  8. Andrew Flusche
    November 28th, 2008

    @Brian – California generally requires a 30 minute unpaid lunch break after 5 hours of work (unless your entire shift is only 6 hours). If your company is doing something different, you should contact the California labor department or a local California lawyer.

  9. Gina
    December 1st, 2008

    Do companies require that each employee takes a 30 minute lunch if they work 8 or more hours? I’ve worked with my company for about a year now and they just started doing this, saying it was the law. Before we would just take 30 minute breaks to get some food. This is in Ohio.

  10. Andrew Flusche
    December 1st, 2008

    @Gina – I do not know of an Ohio lunch break law that would require 30 minutes for lunch. Your company might be taking a conservative approach: giving you a lunch break because some states do require it.

  11. ME
    December 2nd, 2008



  12. Andrew Flusche
    December 3rd, 2008

    @ME – As far as I know, Michigan doesn’t require lunch breaks at all. If you are given one, it typically isn’t paid time. If you have further questions, you should try contacting a lawyer licensed in Michigan.

  13. Brett - Tennessee
    January 12th, 2009

    We have a labor law here where our employer has to give us a 30 minute lunch but we take an hour. My question is…

    If I am a salaried employee and get a lunch hour, can they ask me to work through lunch and do company business?

  14. Andrew Flusche
    January 12th, 2009

    @Brett – Honestly, I suggest you contact an employment attorney in Tennessee. If you are not relieved from your duties, I don’t think the time counts as your lunch break. But the rules can be different for salaried employees.

  15. Joann
    January 17th, 2009

    In am in California. My company gives unpaid lunch breaks, but no where to actually eat lunch in our building – except at our desks. I can not afford to eat out every day, and that is the only way to actually get a break. When at your desk, work goes on. People have questions, bosses have requests, no one sees your lunch in front of you, while at your desk. Is this really a lunch break? I am not a salaried employee.

  16. Andrew Flusche
    January 17th, 2009

    @Joann – My suggestion would simply be to make it clear to coworkers and bosses that you are on lunch and not required to work. Maybe you even need a little sign or something to setup on the corner of your desk. It sounds silly, but it might just work.

  17. Rich
    January 20th, 2009

    Hello I am in New York State. We have some employees that for whatever reason ask to take thier lunch at the end of thier shift. So, say they work 8-5 PM and want to take thier lunch 4-5PM. Some people say that they need to take as least 1/2 of thier lunch during, is that correct?

  18. Andrew Flusche
    January 24th, 2009

    @Rich – This is really a question for a New York attorney. I believe NY only requires a 1/2 hour lunch break, but I’m not sure if the statutes say exactly when the break must be taken. Some states do require the break to be given before the end of the shift, but others don’t specify.

  19. Vermont lunch breaks
    February 10th, 2009

    We have been told that we must take our lunch break within 6 hours of our start of day. We have previously chosen to take our lunch breaks later, in order to break the monotony of our jobs.
    Are we required by law to take our lunch breaks within 6 hours of starting our work day?

    Thank you.

  20. Andrew Flusche
    February 13th, 2009

    @Vermont lunch breaks – You should contact an attorney licensed in the state where you work. Some states do require lunch breaks to be taken during a certain window (such as after the 5th hour worked, but not later than the 7th hour). Keep in mind that lunch break laws set the minimum standard that your employer must follow. They can set their own rules as well.

  21. Kelli
    March 16th, 2009

    I work in NYS, and I work from 10 am-4 pm. My boss gives me a 15 min break, but says I really should only get a 10 min, break because I really only “work” 5 hrs and 45 min. How long of a break does she have to give me, and does this have to be paid?

  22. Jim
    March 19th, 2009

    I understand there is no federal or in my case, Oklahoma, law mandating lunch. My question is about breaks; I am an hourly employee that works 9 1/2 hour shifts and my employer won’t allow lunches or even breaks of any kind. Seems they want me to work 9 1/2 hours with NO breaks whatsoever! I can’t believe that is legal but would like to know for certain?

  23. Andrew Flusche
    March 20th, 2009

    @Kelli – Under federal law, the working time to calculate breaks is based on the overall length of the shift. Employers can’t take the shift length, deduct break time, and then use that reduced number to determine the breaks required.

    @Jim – This is a question you’ll really have to ask a local Oklahoma attorney. I simply do not know if there are ways for you to get some type of break during your shift.

  24. mat
    April 6th, 2009

    I work in a In a Coal mine in IN, i work 10 hour days, they pays use thougth lunch every day, but can we get breaks? or at least time too eat? If not is there any why to get the USA to change our laws, We the works Make this Country!!!!!!!!?

  25. Amy
    April 9th, 2009

    I work in TN. My manager just told me I need to take an hour lunch instead of the minimum 30 mins. I don’t need a whole hour to eat lunch and really I’d rather get back to work and get home by 4:30 when I clock in at 8. My question is can I clock back in for lunch after 30mins or 1 hour?

  26. Andrew Flusche
    April 9th, 2009

    @Amy – Federal and state laws just provide a minimum for the breaks you get. Your employer can require you to take more breaks than that. Your employer sets the schedule and gets to decide when you work, as long as it is within the minimum requirements set by law.

  27. ralph in NY
    May 12th, 2009

    in NY my company gives us a 30 min unpaid break and two 15 min. paid break. the 30 min break, (the lunch hour) has always been accepted as “our” time. a supervisor recently claimed that an employee was violating company policy by sleeping during his 30 min. break.
    the employee argues that since that time is unpaid, it is not the company’s.
    who’s right?

  28. myna
    May 14th, 2009

    What about Lunch Labor Law in Texas? Is there any?
    I am working now for 7 years without lunch break or any break(40 Hours/week).
    Developed health problems too.HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Katie
    June 15th, 2009

    can your employer tell you what you can and can’t do on your “unpaid” lunch hour?

  30. Heidi
    June 29th, 2009


    I am currently a contracted employee in the state of NY. I have recently been harrassed numerous times regarding 1. me smoking, and 2. my lunch break. Initially, I was confronted about whether I have been smoking on business premises. Which I declined, and stated that I go off business property to smoke. I was then told that I was not to be smoking on my unpaid lunch break. I stated to my director that I am not compensated for my lunch break (of 1/2 hr). I am currently logging my lunch break times, and am being questioned as to where I am going during my lunch break. “Where are you going…but where are you TAKING your lunch?” Second question, “excuse me little lady, but JUST where do you think you are going, and where do you plan to take THAT lunch?” Can they question me like this? Any advice is greatly appreciated.


  31. david hyde
    June 30th, 2009

    i have a question i work in vermont and i work at a bottle redempition place. my bosses son works there to and he gets to leave work for a half hour for lunch and gets paid for it and when i bring it up to my boss because i dont get a half hour lunch i get just 20 min. but the thing is we dont get that. he says its in the hand book. we dont have a hand book. he tells me he gets to because he is part owner and his son. well if he is part owner then why does he get a pay check. owners get a percentage of the company not a pay check. i dont care if i dont get paid for 30 min of lunch. i just want to have 30 mins just like his son get to. i work 8 hours to 11 hours a day so i would like to have 30 min. please respond back.

  32. Natasha
    July 7th, 2009

    I’m i pennsylvania, is it legal for my boss to make us work through lunch (calling it a working lunch) and then require that we stay for the full 7.5 hours of our day? I am a salaried employee.

  33. Vicki Vanterpool
    July 31st, 2009

    Sorry, but even after reading the comments and browsing the site, I have a question. If my company policy provides for a one hour unpaid lunch, but my department is willing to provide lunch at no cost but ties it to a half hour lunch instead, is that permissible?

  34. rick flores
    August 14th, 2009

    how long would my friends lunch break be if he worked 11 1/2 hour shifts in the state of texas, he works off of commission? please e-mail me when you have a chance

  35. Stephanie
    August 19th, 2009

    I’m in Ny and I’m not a salaried employee. My job title is 3rd key/lead clerk which is under assistant manager. Since I’m part of management, If a cashier and myself are the only ones at work and I have to take my lunch break, I still have to supervise the cashier when she has a return or void by turning a key in the register, answer the phone, and verify invoices when a vendor comes in. Is this legal since I’m the only manager on duty or should there have to be another manager there while I take my lunch?

  36. Matthias
    August 26th, 2009

    I’m in California and I work an 8-hour shift, typically. In the interests of not disrupting my work flow, I have typically preferred to take my lunches late, usually during the last 2 hours of my shift, give or take. I have been reprimanded for taking these late lunch and been cited that it’s “federal law” to take a lunch within the first four to five hours of an 8-hour shift.

    According to your site and some research on my own, there are no such federal laws at all regarding lunches. I’ve noted that California has lunch laws and requires a lunch period for a period over 5 hours worked, but can’t find anywhere that stipulates just when such a break MUST be taken.

    Is there any regulation this specific or is this just my supervisor/company deciding that THIS is how it’s supposed to be? Quite honestly, I’d have no problem if it were the case, but it rankles to have someone throw something as heavy as federal law around just to make someone -ahem- behave.


  37. sean
    October 3rd, 2009

    i work for wal-mart in new york and was wondering if im on for an 8 hour shift and only want to take a half hour lunch instead of an hour and leave a half hour early , say my shift is 12-9 and i work till 8:30 with a half hour lunch, can i be written up for this?

  38. rich
    October 13th, 2009

    my employer is shifting us for 12 hr shifts paid 10 straight and two overtime where we are able to leave after 12 hrs to 12 hr shifts at straight time up to 40 hrs and then requiring us to stay 12 1/2 hours in order to get 12 hrs pay by saying we have a 1/2 hr unpaid lunch if you are hourly nonexempt and not protected by a labor contract is there such a thing as past practice ? and is requiring 12 1/2 hours work to be paid 12 hrs legal ?

Comments are automatically closed on older posts.

  • Legal tips by email

    Sign-up below to get email tips and exclusive discounts on videos, webinars, and future items.

    All fields are required.

  • Receive updates

    By email
    By rss (full feed)
  • About Andrew Flusche

    Lawyer, bicyclist, husband.
    More about me...
    Tumble Log
    View Andrew Flusche's profile on LinkedIn
    Andrew Flusche's Facebook Profile
  • Popular Posts