New York Meal and Rest Break Laws

New York employers must provide a meal break, but don't have to give rest breaks.

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

Does your New York employer give you meal breaks or rest breaks? You might be surprised to learn that federal law doesn't give employees the right to time off to eat lunch (or another meal) or the right to take short breaks during the work day.

Although employees must be paid for shorter breaks they are allowed to take during the day, employers are not required to provide these breaks in the first place.

Plenty of employers provide these breaks as a matter of custom and policy, perhaps recognizing that an employee who is hungry and tired is neither productive nor pleasant to customers and coworkers. Sensible as this seems, employers are not legally required to allow breaks, at least by federal law.

State law is a different story, however. A number of states require employers to provide meal breaks or rest breaks. In New York, employers are required to provide a meal break, but not rest breaks.

Federal Law: Paid vs. Unpaid Breaks

Federal law requires employers to 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.

Federal law also requires employers to 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.

New York Requires Meal Breaks

A number of states follow the federal law: They don't require meal or rest breaks, but they require employers to pay for any short breaks allowed (and to pay for all time an employee spends working, whether or not the employee is eating at the same time).

Some states require either meal or rest breaks. New York is one of them: It requires employers to provide a meal break, but does not require rest breaks.

Length of Meal Breaks in New York

The length of the required break depends on the industry and shift:

  • Factory employees are entitled to a one-hour break between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Mercantile employees and all other employees covered by New York's labor laws are entitled to a 30-minute break between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • If an employee's shift starts before 11 a.m. and ends after 7 p.m., the employee is entitled to an additional 20-minute break between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • If an employee works a shift of more than six hours that starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m., the employee is entitled to a meal break in the middle of the shift. Factory employees get a one-hour break; mercantile and other employees covered by the labor laws get a 45-minute break.

Are Meal Breaks Paid or Unpaid in New York?

Under New York law, meal breaks are unpaid unless your employer decides otherwise. In practice, most hourly employers don't pay for meal breaks.

Do I Have to Take a Lunch Break in New York?

Some workers would prefer to skip their lunch or other meal break to allow them to go home earlier. This is generally not allowed under New York law.

However, an employer can choose to allow this arrangement on an occasional basis if employee needs require it. For example, if an employee has to leave early to take her child to the doctor, her employer could permit her to work through lunch.

Skipping lunch is also possible where a collective bargaining agreement provides for a waiver of legally required meal periods in exchange for additional breaks at other times.

Other than these two exceptions, an employee can't decide to skip lunch or another meal break to go home earlier.

Employer Penalties for Missed Meal Breaks

If you weren't provided a legally required meal break in New York, your employer must pay you for the time worked, including overtime pay if applicable.

When to Contact an Employment Attorney

If your New York employer isn't providing you with legally required meal breaks, or isn't paying you for rest breaks, contact a knowledgeable employment attorney to discuss your legal options.

Get Professional Help
Talk to an Employment Rights attorney.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you