The Workplace Guide To Meals & Breaks
The rules and regulations around meals and breaks can be a challenge to navigate for most. We’ll break it down into bite-sized pieces for you so it’s a little easier to understand from both a payroll and HR perspective.
The rules and regulations around meals and breaks can be a challenge to navigate for most. Trying to interpret all the subtleties and exceptions and nuances can be, quite frankly, intimidating. So many questions:
- Who is entitled to a meal or rest break (or both)?
- When are meals and breaks to be taken?
- How long should a break last? Is it the same as for a meal?
- Are there any exceptions?
We’ll break it down into bite-sized pieces for you so it’s a little easier to understand from both a payroll and human resources perspective.
Federal Guidelines for Meal Breaks
Many people are surprised to learn that employees are not entitled to lunch or coffee breaks under federal law (as long as certain conditions are met), though many states’ laws do have requirements around meal and rest breaks, including the state of New York’s.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers may automatically deduct meal and/or break time from employees’ hours worked, however, they must ensure that employees receive the full duration of the break-in question.
Working While Eating
Under the FLSA, if an employer provides meal breaks (and the state of New York says they have to), the employee must be completely relieved of duty.
Meaning, an employee is not considered to be completely relieved of duty if he or she is required to perform any work whatsoever, whether active or inactive, even if eating at the time.
(It’s worthwhile to note that some courts have interpreted this legislation more conservatively in favor of a predominant benefit test “to determine, on a case-by-case basis, to whom the benefit of the meal period inures.”)
When determining whether an employee is owed overtime, unworked time--- including meal periods -- does not have to be counted. Conversely, if an employee works during a meal period, that time must be counted towards overtime when applicable.
If employees’ meals are interrupted and they have to perform work during that time, they must be paid for the full duration of the break. It’s a good idea for employers to establish a reasonable process for employees to report missed meal breaks to limit liability exposure for lawsuits.
In New York, however, there is a One-Employee Shift exception that addresses situations where only one person is on duty (or is the only one in a specific occupation) where it is customary for the employee to eat on the job without being relieved.
If an employee voluntarily consents to such an arrangement, it is acceptable under this exception. (There are detailed guidelines around this sort of situation of course, but this is the general rule.)
New York State Guidelines for Meal Breaks
In the state of New York, all workers are entitled to an additional meal break of at least 20 minutes for workdays that extend from before 11:00 am to after 7:00 pm. The meal break must be provided between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm.
A person “employed in or in connection with a factory” (or whose primary duties involve the maintenance and/or operation of a factory) is considered to be a factory worker according to guidance from the New York State Department of Labor (or NYSDOL). A factory would include places like mills, workshops, or other manufacturing establishments.
Factory workers are entitled to two meal breaks of at least 60 minutes each 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.
According to these same state guidelines for factory workers, the first lunch break must be between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The second meal break must be at a 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. Any permits granted must be in writing and conspicuously posted at the main entrance of the employer’s establishment, and permits may be revoked at any time.
Non-factory workers are entitled to a lunch break of at least 30 minutes (between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm) for shifts six hours or longer that extend over that period.
For shifts of more than six hours starting between 1:00 pm and 6:00 am, non-factory workers are entitled to a 45-minute meal break, provided at the midpoint of the employee’s shift.
‘Brown Bag Lunches’
If you’re eating lunch at work while listening to a speaker or a presentation--- even if it is not related to work (think an employer-sponsored presentation on health and wellness issues) -- the employer is obligated to provide an uninterrupted meal period where they are free to leave their work areas and engage in non-work related pursuits if they so desire.
If brown bag lunch events are required, they do not count as a meal period and must be counted as time worked. (But remember, if an employee chooses to attend a lunch voluntarily, the employer is considered to have provided the requisite meal period under the law.)
Breaks and Rest Periods - New York
An overview of what New York State labor law requires employers to provide their employees in terms of meals and breaks.
Day of Rest - New York
Before operating on Sunday, employers must notify each employee which day of the week they have for their day of rest.
If your employer does offer short breaks (which usually last between 5 and 20 minutes), under both federal and New York state laws, these breaks are compensable and are considered when determining whether overtime was worked. This is because they’re viewed as common in the industry, and as promoting efficiency.
To be clear, genuine meal breaks (which usually last 30 minutes or longer) are not compensable because, under the FLSA, they’re viewed as serving a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks.
Rules Concerning Minors
Sometimes an employer may choose to employ a minor since very often they don’t have families to support and need experience, and so can work for lower wages than adults.
However, employers must be careful to comply with requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as state laws governing when and how a minor can work.
In New York, child labor law regulates the employment of minors under 18 years of age and prohibits minors from working in certain occupations. The law limits the number of hours a minor can work (depending on age) and stipulates that minors have the same rights to meal and rest periods as adult employees (except in the case of child performers, where laws are different).
A number of federal, state, and local laws require that an employer accommodate a lactating/breastfeeding mother, which usually means breaks and a private location for expressing breast milk. All employers covered by the FSLA must comply with federal law.
In New York, all employers must provide reasonable unpaid break time (or allow the use of a paid break or meal time) each day to express breast milk for up to three years following the birth of a child. (It’s important to note that rules for employers with four or more employees in New York City vary slightly from state law.)
In New York, employees must be given the option to choose whether to express breast milk during regularly scheduled meal and rest breaks. If the break time cannot run concurrently with the meal and rest breaks that are already provided, then break time is unpaid for nonexempt employees.
Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location in close proximity to the work area where an employee can express breast milk with the expectation of privacy.
Employers must provide written notification of breastfeeding accommodation rights to employees who are returning to work, following the birth of a child.
This includes the right to take unpaid leave for the purpose of expressing breast milk, and the notice may either be provided individually to affected employees or to all employees generally in an employee handbook. Employers may also post a notice in a central location.
FLSA Cheat Sheet
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a major piece of legislation that governs numerous workplace standards and compliance measures.
Federal Lactation Accommodations
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act employers are required to provide reasonable break time for employees to express breast milk for their nursing child.
Employers are strongly advised to consider including an employee handbook policy that clearly defines expectations for meals and breaks in alignment with federal and/or state law.
Employers should also consider distributing meal and rest break policies and procedures in writing to employees, including language covering things like uninterrupted break policies and unauthorized breaks.
As long as the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to employees specific requirements concerning what’s acceptable and what isn’t, unauthorized time does not need to be counted as hours worked.
Get HR Help
Complete Payroll’s HR packages provide access to exclusive, industry-leading HR tools and resources. We provide employee handbooks, easy-to-understand state and federal law libraries, and up-to-the-minute labor law alerts so you can effectively manage all your HR compliance and employee relations needs. Let’s talk!
Hunt Hollow Ski Club
Hunt Hollow Ski Club has tried other payroll companies from time to time, but always return to Complete Payroll because we have an assigned specialist who knows our needs inside and out, is knowledgeable, easy to reach and very responsive. My questions and concerns are addressed in a VERY timely manner and I never feel that I have to handle sticky issues alone.
Soderberg Insurance Services Inc
I have been working with Lacy Smart and her team for the last few years. I have been impressed by her responsiveness, accuracy, and high level of providing client satisfaction. She and her team are a wonderful testament to the organization!
Kenrick Maintenance Corporation
Ashley from Complete Payroll has always been helpful. It seems that whenever we have a challenge, Ashley is there to help us through and does it well. Her customer service skills are excellent.
Nuttall Golf Cars Inc
I have worked with a few different payroll providers during my career. Complete Payroll is absolutely, by far, the most proficient and customer service-oriented provider I have been privileged to work with. Lindsay Ezard goes above and beyond to assist me with any question I may have. Thank You Lindsay!
The team at Complete Payroll is always responsive, always helpful, and always professional. They have gone above and beyond over recent years to assist Keuka College in creating efficiencies, maintaining compliance, and improving processes. Complete Payroll is a trusted partner, a valued resource, and a respected adviser.
Rochester Hearing and Speech
My experience with Complete Payroll has been exceptional. I was a novice to payroll so my learning curve was big. Andrea is wonderful helping me navigate payroll and not just fixing my errors but explaining what I did or did not do.
Finger Lakes Wrestling Club Inc
We were referred to Complete Payroll years ago by a board member and haven't looked back since. When I first started working with them, I knew nothing about payroll. My first rep Lacey, and now JoAnn, are great to work with. Working with Complete Payroll has just been a wonderful all-around experience for me.
Hilton Health Care PC
We very much appreciate the quick service. If I need a special report it arrives via email within one business day, if not that day.
Dr. Christopher Mozrall
Complete Payroll is a great payroll company, and we love Lacey! She always has the answers to my questions without hesitation. There is very little (if any) wait time to get a call back.
Shear Ego Salon & Spa
The first suggestion I made after I joined Shear Ego was that if they were not yet using Complete Payroll, they should be. We continue to be impressed and happy with the quality and friendliness of service, and the excellent newsletters and up-to-date information on all things payroll and HR.
Boulevard Van City
We moved to Complete Payroll about 3 years ago. It was seamless and working with Lacy Smart on Mondays is a breeze.
People do business with people, not with corporations. In over 20 years, we have only had two customer service reps. Instead of feeling like we are one of 10,000, CP makes us feel like family! We count on Lindsay getting it right, and she always does. Even when we go outside the box, all is as we expect it!
Complete Payroll fits my budget, I never get bounced around between customer service reps, and it's very easy to enter my payroll. I simply take a photo of my payroll sheet and email it to my rep. There's never a problem! With them, it's business done, and business done right.
Town of Bergen NY
Complete Payroll Processing provided an easy transition from internal payroll processing. With payroll as their core competency, CP has the expertise to help mitigate errors and ease the burden of annual updates. Comprehensive reporting gives all the details needed and an organization can operate with an added piece of mind knowing that the payroll service is taken care of.
After nearly 10 years, we are receiving the same or better service than when we started. The ability to reach our dedicated customer service representative in a timely manner is huge when there are deadlines in play. Requests for unique reports and integration with our other vendors has been handled without hesitation. We truly feel a partnership with Complete Payroll.
I am very happy with your service and your website is easy to use. Employees are so responsive and ready to help with any questions. Andrea responds quickly to email, Tracy did everything from the beginning to get us started understanding and entering payroll, and Sydney's training was just super helpful.
I just love Lindsay! She does an awesome job! She is very responsive and I like that she teaches me how to find things rather than just doing it for me.
English Road Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, LLC
When our business began in 2005 I knew right away which payroll company we would use. I have had exactly 2 payroll specialists since then, and I feel like they know me & our company. I am not shy to ask questions & if they don't know the answer I am always pointed in the right direction. I have every confidence in my payroll specialist, Lindsay and the company she is with!
Mack's Body Shop, Inc.
I have had the great pleasure of working with Payroll Country for almost two years now. Tiffany was my original CSR and was very helpful, courteous, and was always there whenever I needed help. So far, my experience with my new rep, John, has been wonderful as well. I look forward to working with Complete Payroll for many years to come!
H Clarke Services
We have been with Complete Payroll for quite awhile now and plan on staying. Thanks!
Watch Howard's Testimonial
Crossroads House has been using Complete Payroll for several years now. Their service is fast, friendly and accurate. Whenever we have payroll documentation needs arise for our employees, Complete Payroll always gets the job done quickly and efficiently. We are proud to count them as one of our many community partners.
Swagelok Western New York
We have received excellent and attentive service for over 10 years now. We have come to rely on Complete Payroll's consistency and very low turnover. We appreciate the chance to know our rep and they get to know us and our needs as a business. If we have payroll or general HR questions, Complete Payroll has the answers for us.
Inn at Houghton Creek
Great customer service combined with a reduction in processing fees made the decision to stay with Complete Payroll an easy one. Our customer service representative, Kendall, always gets back to us quickly, and she is always very helpful and friendly. Also, the training that we received from LeeAnn was thorough and beneficial.
Town Of Pembroke
We have been well served by Complete Payroll. When we have needed support, it was given both in payroll and other employee matters, like handbooks.
Antonucci Law Firm
It has been great working with everyone from Complete payroll. Everyone through the years have always been great. They take your phone calls every time, and always go above and beyond what you need. We have been customers for years and will continue for years.
The Service Collaborative of WNY, Inc.
We have been using Complete Payroll for over five years and have found them to be responsive, professional, friendly, and cost effective. Customer service is best judged when something goes wrong. Complete Payroll is always there immediately to help fix the issue. Complete Payroll is a payroll partner, not just a payroll service.
Tiffany Transportation Services LTD.
I have worked with many payroll companies throughout my career and Complete Payroll surpasses them all in personalized service. My CSR is Andrea and I have always received assistance in a timely manner. Keep up the great job!
Olean Wholesale Grocery Coop., Inc.
Complete Payroll is the best choice that I have made for our payroll and HR services. Anytime I have called customer service, there is always a happy and knowledgeable person on the line to help us out! They have done anything I have asked of them in a quick and efficient manner! I would recommend them to anybody!
Financial Service Company
What I love most about Complete Payroll is the quick resolution and response. There are not many issues, but like anything in life, issues happen. Complete Payroll is the best at acknowledging the issue and resolving the problem quickly. My rep is fantastic to work with, and I refer Complete Payroll whenever I can!
Fillmore Wesleyan Church
I've been very pleased with the service and responsiveness of my CSR, and CP's continued dedication to provide us with all the tools we need to have a successful payroll and HR experience. You are always available when I have a question and always make sure that any problems that arise are worked through to my satisfaction.
Elite Armed Response Service, LLC
I can not fully express my satisfaction with Complete Payroll's personalized service, directed to my specific business needs. They are always there to make suggestions on how to make my experience better. I highly recommend Complete Payroll to anyone that has a business, large or small. You will not be disappointed!
A Gust of Sun Winery
Complete Payroll has, by far, been the easiest and friendliest company we have ever worked with. They are quick to respond to any questions I am having, and they also have a great pricing structure.
Central American Healthcare Initiative Inc.
The attention to detail in the customer experience and the consistent friendliness of the Complete Payroll team really make the difference. Liz, Mona, LeeAnne, Brandi, and Lacy have all been great to work with.
Brian Horn's Auto Repair, Inc.
Complete Payroll's service, loyalty, and family atmosphere is second to none! We NEVER have any mistakes, and payroll is always on time. When I have a "Brain Fart" and forget to call in payroll, my rep Lindsey has my back. Our company will always be with Complete Payroll, and I recommend them to anyone who asks. They get an A++ rating in our book!
Evergreen Trails Campground
We couldn't be happier with Complete Payroll's service. Prompt and professional, every concern or question is addressed immediately. Our rep Lacy is an absolute pleasure to deal with. We have every intention to continue our working relationship with them for years to come. It is a load off to know that this part of our business is "worry free."
We have been in business for 70 years and have dealt with A LOT of other payroll companies! Complete Payroll is by far the best we have worked with! Ashlee Adams is my CSR and she is absolutely the BEST! Always makes time for me and very patient with any question that I may have!
We have been customers for many years. Evolution Software is easy to use but, more importantly, Cindy is an email away and her knowledgeable, efficient, and quick to replies to our questions are appreciated. We're very happy with Complete Payroll.
Chemung County SPCA
Complete Payroll is always there if we have a problem or need something special! Their response time is AWESOME!
Independent Title Agency, LLC
My CSR, Andi Dimmick, is The Bomb! She's always friendly, cheery, and with all her clients, makes me feel like she has carved time out for ME. Her customer service is AWESOME, and the personal touch means so much!
Explore What's Next
Everyone I talk to at CP is friendly and tries to help. If they don't have a ready answer, that's OK. They take the time to find one. Website is user friendly, too. The actual operation of payroll is dependable and reliable.
Peregrine Walton LLC
On the ball with pertinent payroll and HR topics - love the payroll system and customer service!
Mitchell T. Yencer
Things go quite smoothly and I have a very good rep: Megan!
GP Rochester, Inc.
Kari Sutton and her team always are there ready to help me with any questions or concerns. The reports are easy to read and complete with the data I need for the job! Thank you, Kari!
Cindy Van Buren
Great customer support and service!
KTS Management, Inc
Easy to use! My rep, Ashlee Adams gives great customer service, and I love the options you have while still being affordable.
Occupational Management Group
LeeAnn was very helpful, very thorough, patient, and professional, and pleasant! She is an excellent trainer!
Jack of All Trades
Leanne was very helpful!
JD Burkhardt, Inc.
LeeAnne was very helpful in explaining the program with me and answered all my questions. I look forward to trying it out on my own next week!
Attica Auto Supply Inc
Friendly, answered all my questions, and never felt hurried.
Nuttall Warehousing LLC
LeeAnn was just wonderful to work with.
Recent Articles from the Blog
We're constantly publishing content about payroll, human resources or anything related to managing your people.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Twice a month we share relevant and timely blog articles and other resources. No solicitations. No funny business. Just quality stuff to help employers.