Is an employee required to take a lunch break?
The FLSA does not require private employers to provide rest periods for employees, so the answer is dependent on state law. Often state-mandated meal periods can be waived if the employee would prefer to work through them, but a few states do not allow this practice. If your state does allow the meal period to be waived, it may require that the employee agree to it in writing. Whether or not the state requires this documentation, we strongly recommend it. The written agreement shows that any employees who skipped a meal period did so freely. As long as you are within the bounds of state law, you are free to do whatever works best for your organization. For instance, if customers expect you to be open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, but employees are asking to work through (and thereby waive) their 30-minute lunch period so they can leave at 5:00 pm, there is nothing saying you must honor this request. But if it makes sense to let employees work through lunch so you can power down computers and turn off the lights 30 minutes earlier at the end of the day, you’re free to do that as well. Just make sure that you consistently apply your policies and that you document the legitimate business reasons when making any exceptions for a particular employee. If you have any additional questions, please let us know!
Kara practiced employment and bankruptcy law for five years before joining us, and was a Human Resources Generalist at a mid-size Civil Engineering and Architecture firm for two years prior to that. As an attorney she worked on many wage and hour and discrimination claims in both state and federal court. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Oregon State University and received her law degree from Lewis and Clark Law School.