Generally, an employer is not allowed to employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with an uninterrupted meal period that is no less than 30 minutes. On shifts that are no more than six hours in duration, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent by the employee and the employer.  Additionally, an employee who works a shift of more than 10 hours is entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.  On shifts that are no more than 12 hours, the second meal break may be waived by mutual consent between the employee and the employer so long as the employee took his/her first meal break.  These rules apply to nonexempt employees.  Truly exempt employees are not required to take a meal break.

Generally, meal breaks must be documented on the employee’s time records.  Employees must be relieved of all duty during his/her 30-minute meal break.  This means that employees must be allowed to leave the work premises during their meal break and may not be interrupted during the break. Employers may not impede or discourage their employees from taking meal breaks.  If an employee is not relieved of all duty during his/her 30-minute meal break, then the meal break will be considered an “on duty” meal break.  “On duty” meal breaks are allowed under very limited circumstances.  They are allowed only if the nature of the employee’s work prevents him/her from being relieved of all duty and the employee and employer agree to “on duty” meal breaks in writing (and the agreement must state that the employee may revoke it at any time).  An “on duty” meal break is counted as hours worked and must be paid at the employee’s “regular rate of pay.” 

In places of employment where employees are required to stay on the premises, the employer must provide its employees with suitable place to eat.  This requirement does not apply to on-site jobs like construction, drilling, logging, and mining).  However, employers in such on-site industries must provide their employees with an adequate supply of portable water, soap or cleaning agent, and single use towels.  Lastly, if an employee works during a shift that begins or ends between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m., the employer’s facility must provide a means for securing hot food and drink or to heat food and drink, as well as a sheltered place at which the employees can consume their food and drink.

If an employer fails to provide an employee with a lawful and compliant meal break, the employer must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s hourly rate for each workday that a lawful meal period was not provided.  So, if an employee works an eight-hour shift, but is not provided a lawful and compliant meal break, the employer must pay the employee for nine hours on that particular workday.  This one-hour penalty does not count as overtime.  Moreover, the employee’s paystub or wage statement must separately reflect penalties paid during the particular pay period.