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Are you entitled to a meal break under state law?

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of any employee's workday, regardless of their chosen professional, is their meal break. That's because it's a time to not just satiate their appetite, but also catch up with co-workers, tend to personal matters or even just clear their minds of job-related stressors.

Despite the obvious benefits of meal breaks, employers will sometimes seek to restrict participation via crippling workloads or tacit communications making it very clear that taking lunch breaks will result in some manner of retaliation.

As frustrating as this scenario can be, it's important for all employees -- blue collar, white collar, management -- to understand that Section 162 of the New York State Labor Law expressly dictates that employees are entitled to meal breaks, otherwise referred to as "meal periods."

All this naturally begs the question as to how much time is allotted to workers for these meal periods.

The answer to this question is that it depends largely upon the sector in which an employee earns a living.

  • Non-factory workers: Anyone employed in a non-factory setting is allowed a 30-minute break for their noonday meal, a period recognized as running from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., if their shift is at least six hours. For all shifts over six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., they are entitled to a 45-minute meal break at the midway point of their shift.
  • Factory workers: Anyone employed in or connection with a factory is allowed a 60-minute break for their noonday meal, a period recognized as running from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., if their shift is at least six hours. For all shifts over six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., they are entitled to a 60-minute meal break at the midway point of their shift.

It's also important to understand that all workers are legally entitled to an additional 20-minute meal break anytime between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. if their shift extends from before 11:00 a.m. to after 7:00 p.m.

We'll continue this discussion in a future post, examining such issues as whether shorter meal periods are ever permissible, what happens with meal breaks when only one employee is on duty, and how "brown bag lunches" are treated under state law.

In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns relating to your employee rights -- from wages and overtime to vacation and meal periods -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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