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Should I get a lunch break at work?

Posted on July 22, 2018

As much as you enjoy your job, everyone needs a break. You may anticipate your break by preparing a lunch the night before or stocking your locker with your favorite snack. You may keep a paperback novel in your desk drawer or have a standing appointment with a co-worker to discuss last night’s game.

If your Arizona employer provides a lunch break off the clock, you can consider yourself fortunate. You may not realize that there is no federal law requiring employers to allow workers to take a lunch break or a rest break during the day. While several states have passed their own laws and statues mandating time for employees to take a break, Arizona is not among them. However, when a company’s policy includes breaks, the company must follow the rules of the United States Department of Labor.

How Arizona laws apply to your job

Federal and state laws distinguish between a meal break and a rest break by the time allotted. A meal break is 30 minutes or longer, and a rest break is between five and 20 minutes. If you worked in a state that mandates breaks, you would have to clock out for your meals, but your rest breaks are compensated. Some states have very complicated laws, mandating rest breaks after a certain number of hours’ work and meal breaks for a shift lasting six hours or more, for example.

Even though Arizona is not one of those states that requires your boss to give you a break, many businesses do so anyway. However, once your employer’s policy includes breaks, those breaks fall under USDOL regulations, including these rules:

  • When your break lasts less than 20 minutes, your employer may not tell you to clock out. The USDOL considers rest breaks part of your paid workday.
  • If your employer makes you work during your meal, for example answering the phone or replying to emails, you must be compensated for that time.
  • If you work through your lunch or receive paid rest breaks, that time counts toward your accumulated hours in determining overtime.

Labor laws can be confusing, and if you feel your boss is violating your rights, it is possible that there is a misunderstanding of the laws related to the situation. The best place to seek answers to questions about employment issues is from a professional who knows state and federal laws and how they may apply to your circumstances.