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When Are You Entitled to a Meal Break at Work?

Published February 6, 2023 by Employment and Commerce Law Group
When Are You Entitled to a Meal Break at Work?

As a Tennessee employee, you may wonder whether you are entitled to a meal break during your job shift. The answer is yes. State law permits you to have a meal break at work during a qualifying shift. Your employer must allow you to take scheduled meal breaks during which you are relieved of your work duties. Employers may owe fines and penalties for violating the law. Furthermore, state and federal laws prohibit employers from retaliating against you for asserting your right to meal breaks.

Am I Entitled to Meal and Rest Breaks in Tennessee?

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the Wage Regulations Act entitles employees in Tennessee to a 30-minute unpaid meal or break period if the employee works a shift of at least six consecutive hours. An employer may not schedule a meal break during the first hour of an employee’s shift. However, employers do not have to provide an unpaid meal or rest break to employees in workplaces where the nature of the work allows for breaks during employees’ shifts, such as restaurants. If employers schedule additional breaks during an employee’s shift, employers must pay workers for that break time if the break lasts less than 20 minutes.

Are Meal and Rest Breaks Required Under Federal Labor Laws?

Federal law does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks to employees. However, the U.S. Department of Labor considers short breaks that last 20 minutes or less as compensable work time that counts toward an employee’s workweek.

Meal breaks, which typically last 30 minutes or more, are not considered compensable time under federal law, and employers are not required to compensate employees for these breaks. Employees should be completely relieved from work duties during a meal break.

What If My Employer Doesn’t Allow Meal Breaks?

Employers who unlawfully deny meal breaks to qualifying employees may face penalties under state law. Violating the meal break requirement is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $100 to $500. In addition, employers who willfully violate meal break regulations may face civil penalties of $500 to $1,000. Every violation of the law constitutes a separate offense, and employers may receive a fine or penalty for each offense.

You may have an unpaid wages claim against your employer if you are entitled to a meal break but are required to perform work duties during that time. You can also seek compensation for short breaks of 20 minutes or less in which you do not receive wages.

Contact an Employee Rights Lawyer for Help Recovering Unpaid Meal and Break Time Wages

Employers cannot deny workers the time they need to eat and rest. If that’s happening to you, consult an experienced employment rights lawyer to hold the business accountable for its unlawful actions. At the Employment and Commerce Law Group, we don’t tolerate the mistreatment of hardworking Tennesseans. Call or contact us immediately for help with your case. The first consultation is free.

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