Workday breaks can go a long way to reduce employees’ stress and fatigue on the job while also improving overall job satisfaction and productivity. It important for New York State employers and employees to familiarize themselves with the legal requirements of workplace breaks. This tip offers an overview of New York State workplace meal and rest period laws and provides guidance on how to remain in compliance.

Meal Periods

Meal Period Requirements

Generally, New York law requires employers to provide a meal break. Section 162 of the New York State Labor Law establishes the required meal periods, which differ for factory and non-factory employees, as set forth in the following chart.

Employment Description

Time Allowed for Meals

Individuals employed in or in connection with a factory

  • Allowed at least 60 minutes for the noonday meal (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
  • If the shift is more than six hours starting between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m., the employee is allowed 60 minutes for a meal period

Individuals employed in or connection with non-factory establishments/occupations

  • Allowed at least 30 minutes for a noonday meal (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) if the shift is more than six hours extending over the noonday meal period
  • If the shift is more than six hours starting between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., the employee is allowed 45 minutes for a meal period

Individuals employed for a period before 11 a.m. and continuing after 7 p.m.

  • Allowed an additional meal period of at least 20 minutes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

It is not necessary that employees are permitted to leave the work premises if they are completely freed from duties during the meal period. Employees may remain at their desk or work area during a meal break if they are not expected to perform any work duties during that time.

Permitting Shorter Meal Periods

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) can issue a permit allowing shorter fixed meal periods. Such a permit must be in writing and conspicuously posted in the main entrance of the establishment. The NYSDOL can revoke the permit at any time.

The NYSDOL can also permit shorter meal periods without an application by the employer if this shorter break does not create a hardship for employees. Such breaks cannot be shorter than 30 minutes.

The NYSDOL can also issue special permits for shorter meal periods after investigating special or unusual cases, but these meal periods cannot be shorter than 20 minutes.

One-Employee Shift Exception

Section 162 contains a one-employee shift exception where it is permissible for an employee to eat on the job if he or she has voluntarily consented to this arrangement. To obtain an employee’s voluntary consent, the employer must explain to the employee that (1) the nature of the employer’s industry necessitates one-employee shifts, and (2) the employee’s meal periods may be interrupted. The employer must obtain an acknowledgment from the employee, preferably in writing, either when the employee is hired or before the employee would be expected to give up his or her uninterrupted meal periods.

If an employee works through a meal period due to the one-employee shift exception, the employee must be paid for that meal period. Also, the employee must be given an uninterrupted meal period upon request. 

Brown Bag Lunches

Some employers host brown bag lunches where employees eat their lunches while listening to a speaker or presentation. If employers require employees to attend brown bag lunches, this does not count as a meal period and must be counted as time worked. On the other hand, if employees voluntarily choose to attend these brown bag lunch events, they are considered to have received a proper period under the law.

Skipping Meal Periods

New York employees may waive their rights to a meal period if there is a collective bargaining agreement. The collective bargaining agreement must provide for a waiver of statutory meal periods in exchange for additional breaks or meal periods that are scheduled at other times. The waiver must include that the operational needs of the industry make it impractical to strictly comply with the meal periods. The waiver must also indicate that it was obtained openly and knowingly without duress or coercion through good faith negotiations.

Rest Periods

Rest Breaks

Rest breaks are short in duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes. Rest breaks such as coffee or snack breaks are different from meal periods. Unlike meal periods, New York employers are not required to offer rest breaks. 

New York employers who do offer rest breaks must consider the time taken for rest breaks as compensable.  This time for rest breaks would be included in the sum of hours worked and considered in determining whether the employee worked overtime.

Rest Days

Under Section 161 of the New York State Labor Law, certain New York employees must be provided with at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in any calendar week. This day of rest requirement applies to certain occupations and industries as set forth in Section 161 that require continuous work, such as mercantile establishments, factories, hotels, and restaurants.

Employers must designate this day of rest for each employee and notify employees in advance of their day of rest before operating on Sunday. Employees are not permitted to work on their designated day of rest. Employers are required to maintain a time book that shows the names and addresses of employees and the hours worked by them each day.

Employers may apply for a variance from the day of rest requirement if there are practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships in fulfilling the requirement.  However, the variance will be granted only if the employer agrees to certain conditions and the application is approved.

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