Meal & Rest Breaks

Bona Fide Meal Periods.

Under Department of Labor regulations, “bona fide meal periods” are “not worktime.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.19(a). “Bona fide meal periods” are breaks in which an “employee [is] completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals.” Id.

Unfortunately, many employers insist that employees continue working during meal breaks. If you are not completely relieved of your duties during meal breaks, then you may have been underpaid by your employer.

The Predominant Benefits Test.

An employer need not pay employees for time spent on “bona fide meal periods,” but must pay employees for “meal break[s] during which a worker performs activities predominantly for the benefit of the employer.”1 Of course, employers are always free to pay employees for breaks even if not required to do so under the FLSA.

How Long Should Meal Breaks Be?

Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. But a shorter period of time may be long enough under special conditions.

Under the FLSA, if a meal break is less than 20 minutes it is generally considered compensible time, even if it is completely unproductive.

How Do I Know If My Employer Allows Bona Fide Meal Breaks?

A break is not a “bona fide meal period” if your employer requires you to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating.

In order to determine whether a meal break should be considered work time, courts often look at whether an employee is free to use the time for his or her own purposes.2 Some examples of not being able to use the meal time for your own purposes may include:

  • Not being able to choose where you take meal breaks
  • Not being allowed to remove personal protective equipment (PPE) during meal breaks
  • Not being able to use cell phones during meal breaks
  • Not being able to smoke during meal breaks
  • Not being able to engage in any other personal business during meal breaks

Meal break have been included in determining total number of hours worked for purposes of calculating overtime where employees are not completely relieved of their duties. Examples of employees who have not been completely relieved of their duties include the following:

  • Firefighters who must remain ready for emergency calls3
  • Office employees who are required to eat at their desks
  • Factory workers who are required to be at their machine is working while eating.
Construction workers eating lunch

If you performed work of any kind during your meal breaks, but were not paid for this time, our lawyers are ready to speak with you about possible legal claims.

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1See Reich v. S. New England Telecommunications Corp., 121 F.3d 58, 64 (2d Cir. 1997); Hill v. U.S., 751 F.2d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1984) (describing “predominant benefits” test in the Sixth Circuit).
2See Naylor v. Securiguard, Inc., 801 F.3d 501 (5th Cir. 2015).
3See Kohlheim v. Glynn Cty., 915 F.2d 1473, 1477 (11th Cir. 1990).

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