Workers have many rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Does this include rights to breaks at work?

For most types of breaks, the answer is no. The FLSA does not require employers to give general rest breaks. It also doesn’t give employees rights to meal breaks.

There is, however, a type of break that is required under the FLSA. Under this federal law, employers are generally required to provide nursing mothers who are in jobs that are not exempt from the FLSA overtime rules breaks for expressing breast milk. This requirement lasts for one year following the birth of the mother’s child.

Also, some states give more expansive break rights to employees. For example, here in New York, there are state rules entitling most workers to meal breaks.

Are employers required to consider time that employees spend on break as compensable work time? Under FLSA rules, it depends on the types of break.

General rest breaks of 20 minutes or less typically have to be counted as compensable work time. Meal breaks, however, generally do not. Breaks for nursing mothers also typically do not, unless the employer also provides general rest breaks to workers and the nursing mother uses her general break time as her break for expressing breast milk.

What can workers do if they believe that their employer is not properly counting their compensable work time under FLSA rules? Depending on the situation, pursuing lawsuits could be an option. Employment law attorneys can provide guidance to workers on responding to potential FLSA violations.