For all employees in New York State, there are labor laws in place that protect them. While we often pay attention to wage violations, health care benefits, and discrimination, a workplace’s daily operations can get overlooked, which can lead to bigger complications for workers.
This might sound surprising, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require employers to provide meal break periods or short breaks during the workday to their employees. Although employees must be paid for short breaks they can take during the day, their employers are not required to provide them in the first place. Most employers provide these breaks as a matter of policy and custom, probably recognizing that a tired and hungry employee is neither productive nor pleasant to others. Nevertheless, employers are not legally required to allow these breaks, not at least by federal law.
New York State law is a different story, however. New York labor laws include a number of important employee meal periods and rest break requirements for employers to understand and comply with. Those who fail to comply with these rules risk being subject to liability, including hefty penalties under the state’s wage and hour laws.
New York Labor Laws on Rest and Meal Breaks
Under Labor Law Section 162, in New York, there are specific protections in place to protect employees from working too many hours without a break. The New York Labor Law defines the following employees’ rights to breaks:
Most employees who are working a full-time shift have a right to a meal break period at some point during their shift. Employees who work a shift that is six or more hours long and lasts between 11 AM and 2 PM are entitled to a half-hour unpaid break for lunch. Employees who start their work before 11 AM and end their shift after 7 PM have the right not only to their lunch break but an additional 20-minute meal break between 5 PM and 7 PM.
Employees who work more than six hours starting any time between 1 PM and 6 AM are entitled to a mid-shift 45-minute unpaid meal break. Rules are different for factory workers since instead of the 45-minute meal break, they are entitled to a full hour. Employees who work a shift that is shorter than six hours are not entitled to any break time for meals.
It may surprise employees to hear this, but New York labor laws concerning breaks do not require employers to provide any short reprieve or coffee breaks at any point during an employee’s shift.
However, suppose an employer allows short breaks to employees (less than 20 minutes long). In that case, these short breaks must be paid and included in determining hours worked during the workweek for overtime purposes. Breaks that last 30 minutes or more are not required to be paid or counted as part of hours worked.
While there are no labor laws for bathroom needs, federal labor laws require that employees have reasonable access to bathroom facilities. If an employer is preventing an employee from taking reasonable bathroom breaks, an employee may want to consult with an attorney to discuss their options.
Day of Rest
In certain industries, employers are obliged by labor laws to provide a full 24-hour day of rest period to all employees. This applies to employees that work in factories, hotels, mercantile establishments, restaurants, and office and apartment buildings.
Employers are required to allow their employees to have a reasonable break time to express breast milk for their nursing child. This break applies for up to three years after a child is born. These breaks can be rest or meal breaks and can be either paid or unpaid. Furthermore, employers are required to provide a separate private room for nursing employees to express milk. This room must be in proximity to the work area. Employees who use breastfeeding breaks cannot be discriminated against for using this break.
Breaks for Home Healthcare Attendants
The rules for home health care attendants are not a law, however, an opinion has been issued by the New York State Court of Appeals. Home health care attendants who work at a residence in a 24-hour shift, but don’t reside there, must be paid for all 24 hours. This includes rest, meal, and sleep breaks. In contrast, state minimum wage law doesn’t require home healthcare workers who work 24-hour shifts to be paid minimum wage for rest and meal breaks.
Do Employees Have to Take a Meal Break?
Although employees can be required to take meal breaks, they can also request a waiver provided they’ve negotiated it knowingly and voluntarily and received a desirable benefit in exchange for giving up their breaks. Furthermore, employees must be in a job where strict compliance with the break laws is impractical.
Additionally, an employee who works alone or is the only one in a specific occupation may receive a waiver. However, if an employee demands a meal break, the employer must provide it even if there is no one else to cover for the employee.
It is important to note that employers are allowed to shorten an employee’s meal break to 30 minutes for both factory and non-factory workers unless they face hardship from the shorter break.
Can Employees Forgo Meal Breaks to Leave Work Early?
Typically, employees cannot forgo their meal breaks so they can leave their shift sooner since employers are required to provide meal breaks within a specific window of time. Nevertheless, employers and employees can agree to such terms if employees still have the right to take their break if they want to do so.
Most employees are aware that New York State break laws exist, but many are too often confused about their rights under the law. Meal break laws protect employees by requiring their employers to provide them with at least 30-minute break periods for meals. This law covers all private and public sector employers and their employees. However, where they work will determine how long their break will be. If employers do not comply with the law, they can face steep penalties.
To find out whether you have a case worth pursuing, feel free to contact Cilenti & Cooper today. We treat every case with the attention and care it deserves and can fight for your rights from beginning to end. We offer a free consultation to all of our prospective clients, so you have nothing to lose.