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Employment law

breaks and meal periods

State laws (statutes and regulations) generally govern the number and length of breaks and meal periods employers must provide employees—usually based on the number of consecutive hours the employee has worked that day. These laws vary from state to state and many states have separate provisions requiring meal periods specifically for minors (when minors are covered by two provisions, employer must observe the higher standard).

Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks for employees, but if employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes) federal law considers the breaks compensable work hours that must be included in the number of hours worked when calculating overtime pay. Unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks need not be counted as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer's rules, and that any extension of the break will be punished. Bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes) serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks, are not work time, and are not compensable.

In Texas, state law does not require employers to provide adults with breaks or meal periods regardless of the length of their shift. However, employers who choose to offer breaks have certain obligations under federal law. If an employer in Texas provides short breaks, typically lasting 5 to 20 minutes, these breaks must be counted as compensable work hours according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This time must be included in the sum of hours worked for the purpose of calculating overtime. Unauthorized extensions of these breaks do not need to be counted as work hours if the employer has clearly communicated the break's duration and the consequences for exceeding it. For meal periods, which are usually 30 minutes or longer, neither Texas state law nor federal law requires employers to provide them for adult employees. When employers do offer meal periods, they are not considered work time and are not compensable, provided the employee is completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals. Texas law does have provisions for minors, requiring a 30-minute meal break for employees under 18 who work shifts longer than five hours.

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