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Employee Rights: What You Need to Know About Meal and Rest Breaks

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal labor law that creates a right to a minimum wage, overtime pay, and establishes other basic protections for many workers in Connecticut. For hourly employees, the FLSA (and Connecticut state law) has important things to say about rest breaks and meal breaks. In this article, our Hartford employment lawyers highlight four important things workers need to know about rest breaks and meal breaks. 

1. No Federally Guaranteed Right to a Lunch Break—But Connecticut Does Offer Protection

The Department of Labor (DOL) is clear: federal law does not guarantee employees a rest break or a lunch breach. While the majority of companies in the United States do offer employees short breaks and/or lunch breaks, it is not mandated by the FLSA. That being said, our state does have its own rules. Under Connecticut law (Section 31-51ii), employers operating in the state must provide hourly workers with a 30-minute lunch break for every 7.5 hours worked.

2. Short Rest Periods (5 to 20 Minutes) are Compensable Under the FLSA

While short rest breaks are not guaranteed by federal law, the FLSA does require employers to compensate workers for these types of break. Under federal, an hourly worker cannot be asked to clock out for a five minute break nor can that time be deducted from their paycheck. Any break that lasts under 20 minutes is deemed compensable time for the purposes of federal law. 

3. Meal Breaks (30 Minutes or More) are Not Compensable

Meal breaks—which are distinguished from short rest breaksare not compensable. When an hourly employee is granted a 30 minute lunch break, they do not have to be paid for this time. A Connecticut company or organization can make an employee clock out or can deduct 30 minutes for a legitimate meal break. That being said, they must actually let the employee take that break. Otherwise, rights have been violated. 

4. Hourly Employees Cannot Work During a Meal Break

When an employee takes a short (paid) rest break, an employer generally has the right to call them back early to deal with an issue. However, when an employee takes an unpaid 30 minute lunch break, they cannot perform any work-related activities during that time. If an employer makes an hourly employee work through their lunch break, even partially, then that employee is not actually taking a meal break at all—at least for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As such, they must be paid for that time. 

Call our Hartford Employment Attorneys for Immediate Assistance

At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, our Connecticut employment law attorneys have extensive experience handling wage and hour claims. If you believe that you were unfairly undercompensated for meal breaks or rest breaks, we can help. For a confidential, no obligation consultation, please contact us today. From our office locations in Hartford and New Haven, we serve communities throughout Connecticut.