U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division regulations
do specify when work breaks, including meal periods, rest periods,
and sleeping time, must be counted as paid work time subject to federal
minimum wage and overtime requirements (29 CFR 785.18 through 785.23).
Bona fide meal periods. Employers
are not required to pay employees for time spent during bona fide
meal periods. Bona fide meal periods are ordinarily breaks that last
at least 30 minutes, but they may be shorter under special conditions.
They do not include coffee or snack breaks; these are rest periods
that may have to be counted as paid work time.
Free from duty. During such an unpaid meal period, an employee must
be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating a regular
meal. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the
premises if he or she is otherwise completely freed from duties during
the meal period. An employee who is required to perform any duties,
whether active or inactive, while eating is not considered to be completely
relieved of duties. For example, an office employee who is required
to eat at his or her desk or a factory worker who is required to be
at his or her machine is working while eating. Some courts, however,
have not required that the employee be completely relieved from duty
during bona fide meal periods. Instead, they examined whether the
employee's time is spent predominantly for the employer's benefit.
Firefighters. Meal periods must
be counted as paid work time for firefighters employed on tours of
duty of 24 hours or less. This applies only to firefighters who are
exempt from overtime because they are employed on a tour-of-duty basis,
as defined in section 207(k) of the FLSA (29 CFR 553.223, 29 USC 207(k)).
Short rest breaks of 5 to 20 minutes are common in the
workplace. Rest breaks are not required by federal law, but if they
are offered they must be counted as paid work time. Compensable time
of rest periods may not be offset against other working time such
as compensable waiting time or on-call time.
Many states require paid and/or unpaid meal and/or rest
If state law requires a short (20-minute-or-less)
rest period, federal law requires that it be counted as paid work
Under certain conditions, sleeping time is paid work
time. Different rules apply depending on whether the employee is on
duty for fewer or more than 24 consecutive hours.
Less than 24-hour duty. An employee
who is required to be on duty for fewer than 24 hours is working,
even though he or she is permitted to sleep or engage in other personal
activities when not busy. For example, a telephone operator who is
required to be on duty for specified hours is working even though
he or she is permitted to sleep when not busy answering calls. It
makes no difference that the operator is furnished facilities for
sleeping. The operator's time is given to her employer. She is required
to be on duty and the time is work time.
Duty of 24 hours or more. When an
employee is required to be on duty for 24 hours or more, the employer
and employee may agree to exclude from paid work time meal periods
and a scheduled sleeping period of 8 hours or less, provided adequate
sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer, and the employee
can usually enjoy an uninterrupted period of sleep. If the sleeping
period is more than 8 hours, only eight hours will be excluded. If
there is no agreement that the time not be counted, the 8 hours of
sleeping time and meal periods are paid work time.
If the sleeping period is interrupted by a call to duty,
the interruption must be counted as hours worked. If the period is
interrupted to such an extent that the employee cannot get at least
5 hours of sleep, the entire period must be counted as working time.
Employees residing on employer's premises. Employees who reside on their employer's premises on a permanent
basis or for extended periods are not considered to be working all
the time they are on the premises. Ordinarily, they have periods of
complete freedom from all duties and enough time for eating, sleeping,
and entertaining. It is difficult to determine the exact number of
hours worked under these circumstances, so any reasonable agreement
of the parties that takes into consideration all the relevant factors
will take precedence.
Last updated on February 9, 2016.