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4 Critical things to know about meal breaks and your rights

August 2, 2017

 

You just started a new job, and you're already noticing a trend that worries you: Your new boss doesn't always give you a lunch break.

 

You do get one on a lot of days, but you often feel rushed, as if he or she is trying to push you to eat in 10 minutes and get back on the job. Your boss doesn't threaten anyone directly, but he or she makes snide comments about only hiring people who are dedicated to the company -- with the implication being that those who don't eat quickly may lose their jobs.

 

The worst, though, are the days when you're swamped. You try to go eat lunch, and your boss sometimes tells you to get back to your desk and eat while you work. He or she smiles while saying it, but it's not a friendly smile. You know you don't really have a choice.

 

It's not healthy. It's stressing you out. You're not even getting paid extra, but you often work through the entire day with almost no breaks at all. Is is legal? Here are four critical things you should know.

 

1. You get a break for every five hours worked.

This means that you deserve a lunch break if you have to work for only five hours that day -- or more. If you get to 10 hours, you get a dinner break, as well. These two meal breaks are legally mandated by state law, with minimal exceptions. You have a right to these breaks.

 

2. The break has to be at least 30 minutes.

Your boss isn't allowed to give you five or 10 minutes to hurriedly eat as much as you can. You deserve 30 minutes at minimum to eat your meal. This is true for both the first and the second break. Your boss can't rush or threaten you.

 

3. You can waive the breaks in certain situations.

Depending on how long you work, you may be able to waive the breaks. For instance, while you deserve a break for a five-hour shift, if you're not going to put in more than six hours that day, you can just waive it and work all six hours. The same is true with the second break if you'd only be working for 12 hours. However, you must agree to waive it; your boss can't force you to do so.

 

4. If you end up working, they must pay you.

The only way your boss can give you the 30-minute break and not pay you is if you have no duties to perform at all. If you have even minor ones, you need to be paid for your time. So, for example, your boss can't tell you to sit at the reception desk to eat, asking you to watch the phone while you do, and then not pay you. That still counts as work, even if you were eating.

Feeling like you never get a break can be stressful and frustrating, and it may be illegal. Understanding your rights is the key to success in your new job.

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