Breaks and lunch time off are periods of time, specified by the employer, during which employees are not actively working on the job. Employees use break time, which generally lasts from 5 – 20 minutes per four hours worked, to eat, visit the restroom, read, talk with friends, smoke, and handle personal business.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has no requirements for employer supplied breaks and lunch free time at work. However, if the employer does supply coffee breaks away from the job, the employer is required to count these hours as compensated. They also count toward the accumulation of hours eligible for overtime payment.
Meal periods, that typically last from 30 – 60 minutes, during which an employee eats breakfast, lunch, or dinner, are looked at differently by the DOL and various states. Lunch or meal breaks are not considered to be work time by the DOL and are not compensable, unless at the employer’s discretion or unless required by state law.
Employers do not need to permit employees to leave the work premises if they are otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.
Additionally, you need to be aware that two-thirds of states have their own rules about the length of lunch or meal breaks allotted during work days of various lengths. Even more states have laws concerning breaks and lunch for minors.