When does the FLSA require pay for meal periods? [Wage & Hour FAQ]


Q. A company provides employees with a 30-minute unpaid lunch break. An employee, who is a smoker, has asked if she can take two 5-minute unpaid smoking breaks - one in the morning and one in the afternoon - and reduce her unpaid lunch break to 20 minutes. Is this allowed?

A. No. Under the FLSA, "bona fide meal periods" are not regarded as work time and can be unpaid. For a break to qualify as a bona fide meal period, "[t]he employee must be completely relieved from duty for purposes of eating regular meals," and the break must generally be at least 30 minutes or longer. The rules do allow that a period shorter than 30 minutes "may be long enough under special circumstances." For example, in a 2004 opinion letter, the DOL found that an employer could permissibly reduce its 30-minute unpaid lunch break to 20 minutes and provide an extra 10 to 15-minute paid break, given that the employer and employees' union agreed to the arrangement and that it took employees only one to one and a half minutes to reach the break room once they were relieved from duty.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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