Most employers know that encouraging employees to take breaks and step away from work can improve productivity, performance and even employee engagement. One thing that often trips up employers though is whether employees have to be paid during meal and break periods. The federal law regarding employee pay, the Fair Labor Standards Act has no requirement for employee breaks or meal periods. If an employer does allow employees to take breaks, the time does not need to be paid as long as the employee is not working or waiting to be engaged in work, and the break lasts more than 20 minutes.

Workplace Break Laws

State laws on break and meal periods vary greatly. Some states, such as Utah, do not require employers to provide breaks, including lunch breaks, for workers eighteen years old or older. If an employer in Utah chooses to provide a break in excess of 20 minutes, they do not have to pay wages during that time if the employee is allowed to leave the worksite and is not engaged in any work. Utah laws do require employers to provide a meal period of no less than 30 minutes to employees who are under the age of eighteen and scheduled to work more than five hours. In Utah, employers must also provide a rest break of at least ten minutes to employees under the age of 18 for every three-hour period of work. This break period should be paid if it lasts less than 20 minutes.

Other states, however have laws regulating the requirement for and the lengths of meal and break periods. For example, Oregon has some fairly specific requirements. In that state, employees are entitled to a half hour, unpaid with relief from all duty, for each work period of six to eight hours, between the second and fifth hour for any work period of seven hours or less and between the third and sixth hour for work period over seven hours. If an employer can show that it is industry practice or that the nature of the employee’s work prevents relief from all duty for 30 minutes, a shorter period, not less than 20 minutes with relief from all duties, or a lunch period while working, both with pay is acceptable.


Paying employees correctly can be complicated, particularly if you have employees working in multiple states. If you have questions about meal and break periods in the states where your employees live and work, reach out to one of our HR experts for assistance.