What Are Lunch and Rest Periods?

Simply stated, lunch and rest periods are designated timeframes, typically one 30-minute lunch period and two 10- to 15-minute rest periods throughout the employee’s day. These periods can be either paid or unpaid time.

Lunch and Rest Period Obligations That Employers Should Note

Requirements for lunch and rest periods are ever-changing. These laws vary by state, industry, exempt and nonexempt employees, and the number of hours worked in a day.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Federal law does not require employers to allow employees to take breaks throughout the day. Federal law comes into act to ensure employers are paying employees for specified rest periods that last from five to 20 minutes.

State Law

Out of 50 States, 21 states have lunch period state requirements with seven of those 21 states having rest period requirements. The Department of Labor website provides the state standard with the current year changes as well as previous year changes available for reference.


Employers who violate state lunch and rest period requirements can face significant financial burden. Violations not only result in financial penalties requiring back pay to employees, they also damage the employer’s reputation within the communicate and among current employees

Rules for Lunch and Rest Periods

Best practice for staying up-to-date on lunch and rest period laws? Have your reference websites bookmarked. But here are a few of the typical lunch and rest period rules to keep in mind.

Rule 1: Lunch Period

Lunch periods of 30 minutes or more do not need to be paid by the employer. The employer must relieve the employee of all job related duties during that 30-minute time period. If the standard work day is 7 am–3 pm, the employee would typically take the 30-minute unpaid lunch period at 11 am.

Rule 2: Rest Period

Employers must pay employees for rest periods that are less than 20 minutes. Typically employers allow employees two 10- to 15-minute rest periods. If the standard work day is 7 am–3 pm, the employee would typically take their first paid rest period at 9 am.

Rule 3: Rules for Younger Workers

Certain industries allow minors, anyone who is not yet 18 years old, to be a part of their workforce. Just as lunch and rest periods vary from state to state, some states have more strict rules for lunch and rest periods for minors. For example, Pennsylvania is required to provide minors ages 14 through 17 years of age a 30-minute rest period if they work five or more consecutive hours.

How to Determine Lunch and Rest Periods for Employees

Although lunch and rest periods vary state by state, there are steps to take to ensure you are providing employees with the basics for lunch and rest periods. For the following steps, we will use the state of Delaware’s rules as an example.

Step 1: How Long Is The Work Day?

In most industries and working environments, hourly employees will have a standard shift that they work. Their hours worked are generally tracked by them clocking in and out for their shift. For our example, we have an employee in Delaware who works in warehousing Monday through Friday, 7 am–3 pm. Delaware’s state requirement is that employees working 7.5 hours in a day receive a 30-minute break.

Step 2: Communicate to Managers

As HR professionals, it is our duty to partner with our management team and ensure they understand expectations for lunch and rest periods. We must educate not only the employees but the managers as well to understand what their specific state requirement is. In Delaware, employers providing the 30-minute lunch break must ensure employees are relieved entirely from their job duties and that their time is uninterrupted. That means that no manager in Delaware should ask an employee to clock out for their lunch period but continue working at their station on the warehouse floor.

Step 3: Utilize Your Time and Attendance Software

If your company utilizes a time and attendance software such as Kronos, ensure it is being used to the fullest extent. Most time and attendance software allows companies to set up work schedules for employees that coordinate the state specific guidelines for lunch and rest periods. For example, employees in California need to clock out for their lunch prior to their sixth hour of work. The time and attendance software can ensure those state regulations are in place and allow the company to monitor daily if they have employees taking lunch after their sixth hour of work. For California employers and HR professionals, failure to follow the state laws will result in the company paying financial penalties.