Monday, December 29, 2014

States With Pro-Employee Laws: Work Breaks For Employees

Some people don't believe me when I tell them that no federal law requires any breaks for employees, but it's true. No lunch breaks, rest breaks or even bathroom breaks are mandated by law (and don't tell me about OSHA and bathroom breaks*). A majority of states also don't have any laws requiring breaks for anyone but minors.

Still, if you're lucky you might live in a state that has some laws requiring work breaks. Here's how it breaks down:

  • Meal breaks:  Only 20 states require any meal breaks.
    California, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington
    require 1/2 hour within five hours of work. Connecticut and Delaware
    require ½ hour after first 2 hours and before last 2 hours for employees
    who work 7½ consecutive hours or more.Illinois, Kentucky, Maine,
    Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode
    Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia all have laws about meal
    breaks. In the other 30 states, employers are allowed to starve you.
  • Rest breaks: Only nine states require any rest breaks.
    California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon and Washington require
    10 minute breaks for every 4 hours of work. Minnesota and Vermont
    require reasonable bathroom breaks. Illinois also has rest break
    requirements but only for hotel attendants. All of these states also
    require meal breaks. 

If you aren't in one of these 20 states, you're at the mercy of your
boss to be allowed to eat, go to the restroom, or just take a stretch.
Yet I still encounter folks regularly in Florida (one of the
no-breaks-for-you states) that get fired after insisting on their legal
right to take their lunch or rest break.

True, most bosses won't actually make you have a potty accident, but
there are sadistic jerks out there who will. You do have some rights
though, despite this.


: If you need regular meal or bathroom breaks due to a
disability, then put in a reasonable accommodation request under the
Americans With Disabilities Act and have HR mandate your breaks. If the
boss still won't honor your approved accommodation, report him/her to
HR. If the company won't accommodate you, you probably have a disability
discrimination case.


: You're entitled to a break and a private place to express breast milk if you're nursing.

Sex discrimination

: I ran into a woman who was told she couldn't
take her purse to the restroom when she had her period. Men had no
restrictions on what they could take to the restroom. Fortunately, she
reported it and HR had the sense to stop this silliness immediately.

Obviously, if the employer is only allowing employees of a particular
race, national origin, age or other protected category to take breaks,
that's also illegal. I shouldn't say it's obvious though, because any
boss who doesn't allow reasonable bathroom or meal breaks is a sadistic


I know I said don't tell me about OSHA, but they really are supposed to make employers allow reasonable bathroom breaks. See OSHA Standard # 1919.141(c)(1)(i)
OSHA's sanitation standard for general industry,
29 CFR 1910.141(c)(l)(i), requires employers to provide their employees
with toilet facilities:

Except as otherwise indicated in this paragraph (c)(l)(i), toliet [sic] facilities, in toilet rooms separate for each sex shall be provided in all places of employment in accordance with Table J-1 of this section .... [emphasis added]

This memorandum explains OSHA's interpretation that this standard
requires employers to make toilet facilities available so that employees
can use them when they need to do so. The employer may not impose
unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities."
"The language and structure of the general industry
sanitation standard reflect the Agency's intent that employees be able
to use toilet facilities promptly." 
In light of the standard's purpose of protecting
employees from the hazards created when toilets are not available, it is
clear that the standard requires employers to allow employees prompt
access to sanitary facilities. Restrictions on access must be
reasonable, and may not cause extended delays.
So yes, OSHA does state that they
require employers to allow prompt bathroom breaks. I wish you good luck
in actually getting OSHA to enforce this standard though. At least in
Florida, they'll probably refer you to the Department of Labor, which
has nothing whatsoever requiring bathroom breaks under their

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