I work in Minnesota, and my employer gives us only 15 minutes to eat lunch. This is hardly enough time if I bring my lunch from home and don't have to use the restroom; there's no way I could go out for lunch or even go buy lunch and eat it during such a short break. Is this legal?
An employer's obligation to give employees meal breaks and other breaks during the work day depends on state law. A number of states don't require employers to offer any breaks at all. Minnesota law does obligate employers to provide a meal break, but it doesn't specify how long the break has to last.
Your question raises two issues: whether your break is long enough and whether you should be paid for that time.
Under Minnesota law, an employer must provide "sufficient" unpaid time for a meal break to employees who work at least eight consecutive hours. Although the law doesn't say exactly how long a meal break must last, Minnesota regulations state that a 30-minute break will usually qualify as a true meal break. The regulations also specify that a meal break may be sufficient even if an employee may not leave the work site, as long as the employee is relieved of all work duties while on break.
Your meal breaks are only half as long as this regulatory standard, so it isn't clear whether you are in fact receiving the "sufficient" break time to which you are legally entitled. If there are special facts and circumstances that make it impossible for your employer to offer more time, such a short break may be justified. Generally, however, it sounds like you are not getting enough time for lunch.
The issue of pay is clearer. If an employer gives employees less than 20 minutes off for a meal, it must pay for that time. Because your employer gives you only 15 minutes for lunch, you are entitled to be paid for that time just as if you were working.
Minnesota also requires employers to give employees "adequate" time to use the rest room within every four consecutive hours of work. This time must be paid. Like the meal period, however, there is no time requirement for these breaks.