Does your Texas employer provide meal or rest breaks? Many do, although neither state nor federal law requires them to. The 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 workday. Employees must be paid for shorter breaks they are allowed to take during the day, but employers are not required to provide these breaks in the first place.
Of course, the law doesn’t prohibit employers from allowing breaks, and many do. After all, a hungry employee is usually not a productive employee (or a pleasant one). But employees don’t have a legal right to breaks. An employer who offers breaks as a matter of custom or policy can always decide to stop providing them.
In some states, workers have more protections. A number of states require employers to provide meal breaks, rest breaks or both. However, Texas doesn’t follow this trend. Employers in Texas don’t have to provide either rest or meal breaks.
Under federal law, employers must pay for hours worked, including certain time that an employer may designate as “breaks.” For example, if an employee has to work through a meal, that time must be paid. A receptionist who must cover the phones or wait for deliveries during lunch must be paid for that time, as must a paralegal who eats lunch at her desk while working or a repair person who grabs a quick bite while driving from one job to the next. Even if an employer refers to this time as a lunch break, the employee is still working and entitled to be paid.
Employers also must pay for short breaks an employee is allowed to take during the day. Breaks lasting from five to 20 minutes are considered part of the workday, for which employees must be paid.
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.
However, these rules come into play only if an employer allows breaks. Federal law requires only that an employer pay for certain time, even if it is designated as a break. It does not require employers to offer break time in the first place.
Some states require employers to provide a meal break, rest breaks, or both. Texas isn’t one of them, however. Employers in Texas must follow the federal rules explained above. In other words, although breaks are not required, employers must pay employees for time they spend working and for shorter breaks during the day. An employer that chooses to provide a longer meal break, during which the employee is relieved of all job duties, does not have to pay the employee for that time.
If your employer isn't giving you the meal or rest breaks required by state or federal law, discuss the matter with your supervisor. If that doesn't help, contact an experienced employment lawyer to discuss your legal options.