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Does employer legally owe you a lunch break? Probably not

By Bill Gephardt | Posted - Sep 9th, 2013 @ 9:15am


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SALT LAKE CITY — Studies show the longer employees work in one stretch, the less efficient they become. So, are workers legally entitled to a 15 minute break or a half-hour lunch?

For many of them, the answer is no.

Under federal law, employers are not required to provide lunch or coffee breaks. However, the law states that if employees do get a short break - usually 20 minutes or less - they must be paid for that time.

"If you're going to force them to take a break, pay them for it. Otherwise, let them work through and go home," said a worker named Jeff.

Only eight states give workers a right to short breaks and Utah is not one of them. Workers in those states will typically get a paid 10-minute break for every four hours worked.

Law on breaks
  • Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks.
  • When employers do offer short breaks, federal law considers them as compensable work hours.
  • Bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) serve a different purpose and, thus, are not work time and are not compensable.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Only 20 states require employers to provide 30 minutes off for lunch. Again, Utah isn't on that list. That doesn't mean employers here and in other states don't provide breaks; it just means there is no legal obligation.

"I think it's something that builds morale," said Utahn Aaron Ashton. "If you want a productive workforce then short breaks from time to time are very well deserved, I would say."

Studies show many employees don't take breaks at work. A survey from Right Management found 49 percent of workers eat lunch at their desks and 28 percent seldom take any breaks.

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