The Fair Labor Standards Act helps to ensure that workers are paid a fair wage. It stays quiet, however, on the issue of whether or not employers must give their employees time away from their duties to eat lunch, make a phone call or simply use the restroom. Fortunately for New York State residents, the state has stepped in and filled the obvious gap.
New York is one of 20 states whose wage and hour laws mandate that employees are given time out of their day to eat lunch, make a phone call or attend to other personal needs. That being said, the actual rules, as set forth by the New York State Department of Labor, are a bit convoluted. They differ from job to job and shift time to shift time. In essence, however, New York State mandates that employees working at least a six hour shift receive a minimum of one 30-minute break (factory workers are entitled to a 60-minute break). Executive, administrative and traveling salespeople are generally exempt from the break rule.
While they are required to provide break time, employers are not required to pay for it. As a result, they are required to ensure that their employees are able to enjoy their breaks free from distraction. The Department of Labor gives the example of a caregiver at a nursing facility. If the caregiver's 30-minute meal time is constantly interrupted by requests for assistance, it cannot be counted as a break and the employee must be compensated accordingly.
If you believe you have been denied breaks to which you are legally entitled, or if you feel you are owed compensation for times when you attempted to take a legal break but were not given the opportunity to do so, you may wish to consult an attorney.