Meal and Rest Breaks

Do Federal Contractors Have to Provide Meal and Rest Breaks?

Federal Contractors often have employees working in different states.  Those states have varying employment-related laws, many of which may differ from federal law.  Federal contractors are focused on winning and staffing contracts, often in states other than where their corporate headquarters is located.  As a result, federal contractors often miss state-law requirements and unwittingly expose themselves to potential liability. 

Federal labor law

There is no federal law that requires private employers (such as federal contractors) to give employees rest or meal breaks.  The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs minimum wage and overtime but does not speak to the issue of providing meal and rest breaks.  The FLSA only discusses whether meal or rest breaks have to be paid.  Short breaks (i.e., up to 20 minutes) must be paid.  Longer breaks may be unpaid.

When must a Federal Contactor provide meal and rest breaks?

In the absence of federal legislation, the states have implemented various meal and rest break requirements.  For example, California employers must provide employees with at least a 10-minute rest period for every 4 hours worked or major fraction thereof.  California employees must also get a 30-minute off-duty meal break if they work more than five (5) hours in a workday.  Colorado, Oregon, and Kentucky require similar rest and meal periods.  Some states require rest or meal breaks for only minor employees (such as Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, and Indiana).  And some states have no laws requiring any rest or meal breaks (such as Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island). 

Can a Federal Contractor cancel a meal break if work gets too busy?

In states with rest or meal break requirements, companies are subject to fines and penalties for failing to provide the break, which typically accumulate with each missed break.  Over time, this can amount to a lot of money.  Federal contractors with employees in multiple states should know the rest and meal break requirements (if any) and manage their workforce accordingly.

For example, in states with meal or rest break requirements, the break must usually be “uninterrupted”.  What happens if an employee is on her lunch break in the kitchen area, receives an email from her boss about an issue, and walks over to her boss’ office to discuss the matter while finishing her sandwich?  In most cases, that employee’s entire lunch period must now be paid…a fact that employers often miss.  This results in underpayment to the employee and an accumulation of fines or penalties to the employer.

Get expert help with managing your meal and rest break questions

For over 25 years C2 has been helping federal contractors solve problems just like these.  Whether you need help with payroll, benefits, tax administration, employee relations, or wage and hour compliance, C2 has the resources to help.  We specialize in helping small to mid-size federal contractors navigate the complex world of today’s HR landscape so that they can remain focused on their core business.

C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.