Are Arizona Employees Entitled to a Paid Lunch Break?

by Jaburg Wilk
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Jaburg Wilk

Many employees believe that they are entitled to a lunch break.  However, the answer – and in some cases the law - differs by state. In Arizona, employees are not entitled to a lunch break or even a ten-minute break because neither Arizona law nor the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to provide such breaks.

The FLSA, however, does require employers to pay employees for lunch breaks under certain conditions. 29 C.F.R. § 785.19 states that Employees need not be paid for “bona fide meal periods”:

Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. Bona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.

So, what does this mean exactly? It means employers must pay employees for lunch breaks, regardless of whether the lunch is thirty minutes or an hour, unless the employee is “completely relieved” of all duties during their lunch break. This means that the employee cannot be expected to answer any phone calls or emails during their lunch break, even if they do not actually answer any phone calls or emails.  

It also means the employee must be allowed to eat their lunch in the employee break room, a similar location if they so choose. Employers, however, do not have to allow the employee to leave the premises for lunch.  

If the employer allows employees to take breaks lasting less than thirty minutes, the employee is entitled to be paid for that time pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 785.18.  

In summary, if you are an employer, you have two choices:  

  1. pay your employees for their lunch periods or
  2. give them at least 30 minutes off and make sure the employees are “completely relieved” of all duties during their lunch break. 

If you are an employee and you believe your employer is not properly compensating you for break times, you should contact an experienced employment attorney.  

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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