“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD)
The importance of rest and relaxation has been understood for thousands of years, so the general belief that employees who take regular breaks are more productive should come as no surprise. However, labor laws governing meal and rest breaks seem to be in conflict as to whether this principle justifies statutory enforcement. Federal labor laws do not require breaks of any sort, which leaves this regulatory duty up to the states themselves; and states are divided over the issue. Only 22 states have enacted laws requiring meal or rest breaks, leaving 28 states without such requirements. Although Missouri and Illinois share a border, they take conflicting positions on the issue, thus making the distinction particularly noteworthy to employers with offices in both states.
As a general rule, Missouri employers are not required to provide employees with meal or rest breaks of any kind during the course of a work period. Instead, employees are entitled to breaks only if provided for in their employment agreement or by way of a company policy. In most instances, these rules also apply to child employees, which are defined as persons under the age of 16, but no younger than 14.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Missouri has carved out limited exceptions for children in the entertainment industry. See § 294.022, RSMo. Specifically, Missouri child labor laws mandate that children in this industry (1) cannot work longer than five and one-half hours without a meal break, and (2) must receive a 15-minute rest break after two hours of continuous work. Moreover, children in the entertainment industry are entitled to a 12-hour rest break at the end of the child’s workday and prior to the commencement of the child’s next day of work for the same employer. The stated purpose of these exceptions is to ensure that no child is employed in an occupation, or in a manner, that is hazardous or detrimental to, among other things, the child’s safety, health and general well-being.
In contrast to Missouri, Illinois employers must generally provide employees with one meal break. In particular, employees who work seven and one-half continuous hours or longer are entitled to at least 20 minutes for a meal period beginning no later than five hours after the start of the work period. 820 ILCS 140/3. Illinois also requires certain rest breaks in between work periods. Specifically, with limited exceptions, employers must provide employees with at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every calendar week in addition to the regular period of rest allowed at the close of each working day. 820 ILCS 140/2.
As with Missouri, federal labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act do not require rest or meal breaks for employees. If employers do decide to offer employees short breaks — defined as 5 to 20 minutes — these breaks constitute compensable work hours that must be paid by the employers. 29 CFR 785.18. Meal breaks offered by employers similarly constitute compensable work hours unless the meal breaks are 30 minutes or longer and are uninterrupted by work. 29 CFR 785.19(a). One exception to the general rule falls under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Act”), which requires employers to provide reasonable break time for a female employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has the need to express the milk.
As either an employer or an employee, it is important to understand the minimum requirements for meal and rest breaks so that you can adequately protect your interests.