Many people are surprised to learn that federal law doesn't give employees the right to take time off to eat lunch (or another meal) or the right to take short breaks during the work day. However, if employers choose to provide breaks, federal law dictates whether the time off must be paid. Several states have also stepped in to pass laws requiring meal breaks or rest breaks. Colorado is one of a handful of states that requires employers to provide both.
Although federal law does not require employers to provide breaks, it does impose requirements on employers to pay for certain time spent at the workplace. Employers must pay in the following situations:
However, employers do not have to pay for bona fide meal breaks, during which the employee is relieved of all duties for the purpose of eating a meal. An employee need not be allowed to leave the work site during a meal break, as long as the employee doesn't have to do any work. Ordinarily, a meal break is "bona fide" if it lasts for at least 30 minutes, although shorter breaks may also qualify, depending on the circumstances.
Colorado requires employers to offer both a meal break and paid rest breaks.
Under Colorado law, certain employers must give employees a 30-minute meal break once the employee has worked five hours. Meal breaks are unpaid, as long as the employee has an uninterrupted, duty-free meal break. This means the employee can't be required to do any work or to wait around for work that might pop up.
If the nature of the job prevents employees from taking a break from all duties, employers may provide an on-duty meal period. However, this time must be paid.
Covered employers include those in retail and service, food and beverage, commercial support service, dry cleaning and housekeeping, and health and medical industries. Some professions are specifically excluded from this requirement, including teachers and nurses.
Colorado also requires employers to provide rest breaks. (Covered employers are the same as for meal breaks.) Employers must allow employees to take a paid ten-minute rest break for every four hours (or major fraction) worked. If practical, these breaks must be provided in the middle of the work period.