Attention, employers: New York is very clear on what constitutes meal and rest breaks for workers. Not all breaks are created equal. Here are the rules and exceptions.
Labor Law Section 162 applies to all employers and employees working in the state of New York and defines set periods for legally acceptable meal and rest breaks. The rules can vary depending on which employment category the work falls under, so it’s wise for employers to know the meal and rest rights for their specific type of employees to remain on the right side of the law.
Meal and rest requirements for factory workers
Factory workers are entitled to a 60-minute meal break which must take place between 11 am and 2 pm. They are also entitled to a further one-hour meal break halfway through any shift lasting over 6 hours and starting between 1 pm and 6 am. For the noonday rest period, the Department of Labor clarifies that it applies to anyone employed in or in connection with a factory.
Under Section 162, factories are manufacturing establishments such as workshops and mills and all adjoining/related structures connected to their operations. Employees whose duties involve the operation or maintenance of a factory are considered factory workers. However, structures operated or owned by public-service corporations do not qualify for factory status.
Break requirements for non-factory workers
“White-collar” workers are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break for working 6 consecutive hours, with the break taking place between 11 am and 2 pm. Shifts over 6 hours require a 45-minute meal break if the shift starts between 1 pm and 6 pm. In both factory and non-factory conditions, workers may take an additional 20-minute meal break sometime between 5 pm and 7 pm on workdays that start before 11 am and end after 7 pm.
Alterations and exceptions to the rules
An employer may apply to the Commissioner of the Department of Labor if they wish to operate shorter mealtimes of not less than 20 minutes, but permission depends upon special circumstances being present. If a lunch break must be reduced to 30 minutes, the Department of Labor allows employers to do so without application but only if it causes no hardship to employees.
Sometimes, a shift may have only one person on duty or a single individual qualified for the job. In this scenario, the employee may either eat on the job (but only with their express consent that this is acceptable and if they are being paid for the time) or they may request an uninterrupted meal break. These circumstances require employers to be very clear with workers at the pre-hiring stage that such shifts may require meals to be eaten on-the-job, or a clear request for a specific meal and rest time.
The “brown bag lunch” is a period when employees eat lunch while attending a work-related presentation. If the presentation is mandatory, employees are still considered to be at work and must be paid for the meal period. If attendance is voluntary, it is considered a meal break and need not be paid.
When standard rules can’t apply
Working environments can be fluid depending on operational needs, so set mealtimes may occasionally be achievable. Employers are permitted to round the starting and stopping of mealtimes in intervals of between 5 and 15 minutes providing this does not result in employees losing time.
Additionally, employers and employees may negotiate to waive statutory meal periods with three provisos:
- The employees must receive a desired benefit in exchange for the waiver
- The operational needs of the workplace must prove that set periods are impractical
- And the waiver must be forged through good-faith negotiations
It’s important to note that the employee benefit in exchange for such a waiver may only temporarily take the form of being able to leave work early. For example, sacrificing the one-hour lunch in a 9 to 6 day may mean employers and employees agree the latter can leave earlier at 5 pm, but only for a limited period. Such an agreement cannot be made permanent.
The location of a work break
It’s common for employees to leave work premises during meal breaks, but there’s no section of the Labor Law that says they must be allowed to do so. What matters is that they are relieved of their duties during the break time (unless it’s in a single-individual scenario as outlined above).
Employees may use meal breaks to rest, but purely rest-based breaks are different. These must be permitted and range from 5 to 20 minutes under Federal Regulation 29 CFR §785.18 and must be counted and paid for as part of the hours worked. Unauthorized extensions of these permitted times need not be paid.
If you’re an employer and in any doubt about meal and rest best practices, contact a labor and employment attorney and/or your nearest office of the Division of Labor Standards for guidance.
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