In Texas, neither state nor federal law entitles employees to a lunch or rest break. However, many employers choose to provide lunch breaks to their employees as a benefit or to increase employee productivity and morale. Employers may also provide lunch breaks to attract and retain employees.

Some employers institute break policies, and some provide meal breaks in their employment contracts. If a workplace is unionized, the collective bargaining agreement union may also dictate meal break rules.

Fair Labor Standards Act – What It Does and Does Not Do

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is a federal law that establishes minimum wage and overtime pay, employer recordkeeping, and child labor standards.

The FLSA does not require meal or coffee breaks. However, when employers offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers those breaks compensable work hours to be fully paid. The employer must also include that time in the sum of hours worked during the workweek for determining if the employee worked overtime. 

An employer does not need to count unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and the employer will punish an unauthorized extension. Employers should consistently enforce these rules. 

Meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes) serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks, are not work time, and are not compensable. For a meal break to be non-compensable time, the employer must completely relieve the employee of their duties during break time. Additionally, the FLSA states that if an employee is required to remain on the premises during their lunch break, it must be counted as work time.

Rest Breaks For Nursing Mothers

Only one type of break is required under the law. Under the 2010 health care reform law, the FLSA now requires employers to provide nursing mothers with reasonable break times, usually about 30 minutes, to express breast milk, or if children are allowed in the office, to nurse their infants, during the first year after the baby’s birth. This requirement only applies to non-exempt employees (i.e., those who are entitled to overtime pay for overtime work), and it exempts employers with less than 50 employees if it causes an undue hardship for the employer to provide such breaks. Such breaks do not have to be paid.

Penalties for Violating Meal and Rest Break Accounting

The Texas Workforce Commission Texas Guidebook for Employers defines a meal break as unpaid, at least 30 minutes, and the employee is entirely relieved from their workplace duties. To differentiate them from paid rest breaks, you may see these 30-minute, unpaid meal breaks referred to as “bona fide meal breaks.”

Situations that constitute meal break violations include:

  • Discriminating against employees on who can have meal and rest breaks and who cannot. 
  • Forcing an employee to work during an unpaid meal period and not paying the employee for their time.
  • Violating employment contracts that specify meal or rest breaks
  • Not paying an employee overtime because the employer does not count short breaks as hours worked.
  • Retaliation or termination after refusing to work through an unpaid break.

Contact an Experienced Texas Business Attorney

In conclusion, there is no federal or state law mandating that Texas employers provide employees with meal or rest breaks. Many employers choose to provide breaks as a benefit to their employees and include breaks in an employer policy or employment agreement. 

You can contact Davis Business Law’s team of experienced employment attorneys today online or at (469) 780-0761 to help develop those policies or contracts.