Are NJ Employers Required to Provide Meal or Rest Breaks?
Apr 27, 2022 | Written by: Share|
You may be surprised to learn that New Jersey does not require its employers to provide most workers with breaks for meals or rest, except for paid meal breaks for minor employees under the age of eighteen. In New Jersey, minor employees must be given at least a 30-minute uninterrupted break for every 5 hours of continuous work. Once they reach the age of 18, however, adult employees are not legally entitled to any breaks under federal or state law. If, however, the employer elects to provide a rest break, then federal law requires the employer to pay its employees for short breaks. Breaks lasting from five to twenty minutes are considered part of the workday, for which employees must be paid.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employees be paid for all hours worked. Accordingly, if the employer offers a bona fide meal break of at least 30 minutes during which the employee is relieved of all job duties for the purpose of eating a meal, then the employer does not have to compensate the employee during that meal break. However, per State regulations, employers are mandated to include “[a]ll the time the employee is required to be at his or her place of work or on duty” in the computation of how many hours that employee has worked. Therefore, if an employer requires its employees to remain at their desks or workstations during meal breaks, then the employees are entitled to receive pay during their meal breaks.
As pointed out by New Jersey courts, the State’s regulation does not define “place of work” for calculating wages. In Vaccaro v. Amazon.Com.DEDC, LLC, the Plaintiff sought compensation under the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law for time spent undergoing mandatory post-shift security screenings at the end of each workday at the Amazon facility where she worked, arguing that she was required to be at this location as part of her job. (In other words, she argued that the time spent undergoing these mandatory screenings was “work.”) In determining whether the time the plaintiff spent passing through these security screenings each day counted as “hours worked” for purposes of calculating wages, the New Jersey District Court applied a two-part test, where it looked at whether: (1) the employer controls or mandates the activity in that area; and (2) whether the activity mainly benefits the employer. The Court held that the security screenings satisfied the “work” test. In another ruling in the same case, the Court ruled that mandatory COVID tests administered at the beginning of the workday might also satisfy the “work” test.
The court’s analysis above is relevant to the issue of paid meal breaks. If the employee is required to work through or be on call during the designated “meal breaks,” then the employee is entitled to receive pay during those meal breaks. If those meal breaks are not paid, then the employee may file a wage and hour violation complaint to seek compensation for denied wages. On the other hand, employees who take a meal break in a break room and are not performing activities that primarily benefit the employer will not be entitled to pay during such breaks.
The most common error employers tend to make is allowing some work to be performed during a meal break. This renders the break compensable. To avoid this, the employer may wish to prohibit any kind of work during a meal break or may require employees to leave their workstations during the allotted meal breaks.
Should you have any questions as to whether you are entitled to a paid meal break, or whether you should be paying your employees during their meal breaks, please contact Gebhardt & Kiefer to speak with me or any one of our attorneys with employment law experience.