Employer Lunch and Break Law Requirements in Minnesota

Recently, I’ve been researching state lunch and break laws. Minnesota is one of 19 states with specific state regulations regarding employee meals and breaks.

Minnesota state law stipulates that “sufficient time” to eat a meal must be provided to all employees who work for eight hours or more consecutively. This meal break may generally be unpaid if it is at least 30 minutes long, but only if the employee is completely relieved of his or her duties. If the worker must do any job duties during the meal break, it would not qualify as an unpaid meal break.

I also found it interesting that Minnesota law mandates paid rest breaks for all employees. Within each consecutive four hours of work, an employee must be given sufficient time to use the rest room.

Finally, there are some interesting work hour issues found in federal law related to sleep time, waiting time, and travel time that Minnesotans may be interested in. Whether or not waiting time needs to be considered paid work hours depends on the situation. If an employee is allowed to do something of his or her choosing while waiting for another task to be finished or while waiting at the workplace for his or her services to be called upon, it is generally considered work time. On the other hand, if an employee is waiting to be called upon, but has great freedom to do what he or she wishes while on call (and has plenty of time to respond to the call), it is not generally considered paid work time.

When it comes to sleeping time, an employee required to be on duty less than 24 hours is considered to be “working” even if he or she is permitted to sleep during some of those hours when not busy. If an employee is on duty more than 24 hours, a sleeping period of no more than eight hours may be deducted from work hours. However, this can only be done if sleeping quarters are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.

Then there is the issue of travel time. The general rule of thumb is that time spent in the normal day’s commute to and from work is not considered paid working time. However, if an employee is traveling in the course of a days work, it must be considered paid work time.

A thorough presentation of state and federal laws related to lunches and breaks may be found on the Minnesota Complete Labor Law Poster. This poster also presents required notices for all areas of both state and federal labor laws.

64 thoughts on “Employer Lunch and Break Law Requirements in Minnesota

  1. thanx Amelia, that was very informative and cleared up the situation. should i hav any other questions or concerns, i will contact you again. ( saving tthis in my favorites ) THANX AGAIN, Greg

  2. Hi Greg! You are very welcome! Please know we are here to answer all your HR questions. Thanks fo reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  3. My work is changing their hours from 9:00 to 5:00 with a 30 minute unpaid lunch break to 8:00-5:00 with an unpaid hour lunch break. An hour is a long time in perspective. What other companies make you take an hour break? If the break is over 20 minutes for lunch then they technically do not have to pay you for your break, correct? I know with our current hours, most of us don’t take breaks, we eat at our desks. My concern is if we stay in the office and eat at the conference table on our one hour break, can our boss legally try to make us work during this time? We’re afraid if we stick around during these times, she may try to give us more work.


  4. Hi Jen! Actually, it is fairly common for employers to give workers a one-hour lunch break. About 38% of all employers who give lunch breaks, give a 60-minute break. That is where the phrase “lunch hour” came from. Many of these employers allow the employees to leave the premises on their lunch hour, but some do not.

    You are correct that under the federal FLSA, an employee need not be paid for a lunch break that is 20 minutes or more. However, that is true only if the employee is relieved of all duty during his or her lunch break. The employee can be required to remain on the premises during an unpaid lunch break in Minnesota. If the employee has to work while eating, the employee is entitled to payment for the entire meal break. An employee who has to remain “on duty” is always entitled to payment for her lunch break. For example, a receptionist who has to eat at the front desk to be available to answer the phone when it rings, or greet a customer if someone comes in, is entitled to payment for that time. In fact, even if the phone does not ring and no customer comes in, she is still entitled to payment for that time because she was not “relieved of all duties.”

    Your best bet is to follow the new policy by taking a 60-minute unpaid break each day. If your boss requires you to work during your meal break, then you should be paid for that time. If you are not paid for that time, you should tactfully discuss it with your supervisor or the HR department. If they still decline to pay you for the time, you should file a wage complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry at http://www.dli.mn.gov/main.asp or the U.S. Department of Labor at http://www.dol.gov.

    Theoretically, you and your coworkers could file a wage complaint because you have been working without pay during your lunch breaks. However, if you were doing this voluntarily, without being told that you must, the employer could discipline or terminate you and your coworkers for not following company policy. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  5. Ok I have asked this before been then have been getting Notification from this site of similar qestions. There are people at my work that are getting written up for break time issues. We work a 12 hour shift and are only given 3 15min breaks. Because we use lead in our Process we can not eat on the floor and must travel to a break area that is sometimes 5-8 mins of walk time away. Because of the travel time we generally use up most of our break time up in walking to the break rooms and this general cause people to to get written up. What are the Laws on break time and lunch time in Minnesota for a 12 hour shift that requires you to eat in a lunch room? There are a bunch of us that feel were getting treated wrong by their break policies they have in there employee handbook and have been enforcing with write ups. They have it in their handbook that the 12hr shift gets only 3 15min breaks nothing about travel time or lunch break. How does one go about dealing with this if were right about them not providing us with enought time? We have tried to use the company’s employee board to adress this issue but they just plain out refuse to even look at redoing their break policy. I present to the board the break laws you have shown on this page and they just tell me you can’t believe everything on the internet. Any suggestions?

  6. Hi Shane! Yes, we have a few suggestions.

    First, the article you are looking at is from 2006. Just to update: For meal breaks, Minnesota law requires that an employee be given “sufficient time to eat a meal” on a shift of 8 hours or more. This includes a 12-hour shift. Unlike other states, Minnesota does not designate how long that meal break must be, but usually it is required to be 15-20 minutes or more. In your case, a meal break longer than 15 minutes may be required, because due to the nature of your work with lead, 15 minutes is not enough time for an employee to eat a meal.

    For rest breaks, Minnesota law requires only that the employee be permitted enough time to use the nearest bathroom, at about the midpoint of each 4-hour work segment. It sounds like you are receiving that, and more.

    Federal law does not require that employees be given any meal or rest breaks at all. However, the federal FLSA and Minnesota law require that an employee be paid for any break that is shorter than 20 minutes .

    The employer is right about one thing — you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But here is the link from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Website about meal breaks: http://www.dli.mn.gov/LS/FaqHours.asp. That site says exactly the same thing we are saying. And here is a “Know Your Rights” brochure from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry: http://www.dli.mn.gov/LS/Pdf/rights_eng_pink.pdf HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

  7. I was just reading over a few post on this blog and have been getting really confused on what the laws are actually. In one post you stated that “Minnesota employees are entitled to a meal break of 20 minutes or more when working an 8-hour shift. Employees working shorter shifts need not be given meal breaks.” Another blog the Qestion was asked “I understand that an employer has to give the employee a 30 minute lunch break for 8 hours work. My question is, does MN law state that an
    employee has to take that 30 minute break? Sometimes I just don’t want to”.
    And then you stated ” The problem is that in Minnesota, if you do not take a break, your employer is breaking the law. Several states have systems in place where an employee can decline a statutory meal break. Minnesota does not. The only way for the Minnesota employer to stay in compliance with the law is to require you to take the break. Many employers also require that workers take unpaid meal breaks to save payroll dollars. This is perfectly legal in any state.” and then On my qestion it was stated ” Under Minnesota law, an employee who works a shift of 8 consecutive hours or more must be given sufficient time to eat a meal during the shift. If the time allowed is less than 20 minutes, it must be paid. (Employees can negotiate a different arrangement under a union contract.) Apparently the employer is counting the three 15-minute breaks as one or more meal periods. You can file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, but as long as you are being paid for the three breaks, the employer is probably in compliance. Theoretically, at least, an employer cannot lawfully take action against an employee for filing a complaint.” Now I have talked to some other so called Lawyer pages and they have Stated that there should be 3 10min breaks and one 1/2 launch break min. In our case what is the right answer. If were going to go to the next step of fileing a formal complaint and rattle some cages I would like to know what the right answer is? Because we have several issues at work with OSHA rule’s regarding lead and the break policy in the employee handbook that they are enforcing by right-ups and have fired a few employees over. Can you please clear things up?

  8. Hi Shane! Yes, we can clear this up for you. On a 12-hour shift you are entitled to “sufficient time to eat a meal” in Minnesota. The law does not specify any certain length of time. In some industries, 15 minutes would be sufficient. However, because of the specific nature of your work, handling lead which is a toxic metal, 15 minutes is not enough time for you to travel to the lunch room, eat the meal and return.

    You are also entitled to a bathroom break in each 4-hour work segment that is long enough for you to use the nearest toilet. The Minnesota law does not require that you be given a break for other activities such as smoking, talking on the cell phone, relaxing or drinking coffee. It only requires that you be given enough time ot use the nearest toilet — not 10 minutes or 15 minutes.

    There is no Minnesota law that requires three 10-minute rest breaks and a 30-minute meal break. (Some states have such laws, but Minnesota does not.) Here are the links to the actual Minnesota laws, in case you want to read them or print them and show them to your employer: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=177.253, https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=177.254, https://www.revisor.mn.gov/rules/?id=5200.0120.

    One important exception: if you are working under a union contract that contains another agreement about meal or rest breaks, then the employer can follow the union contract or collective bargaining agreement instead of the state law.

    You can certainly file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry or MDLI at: dli.laborstandards@state.mn.us , (651) 284-5070 or 1-800-DIAL-DLI (1-800-342-5354). Your complaint would be based on the fact that although you are given three 15-minute breaks, the nature of your work with toxic chemicals makes it impossible for you to get to the lunch room, eat, and get back to work within the 15 minutes. Be sure to mention that you work with lead and it takes 5 to 8 minutes to reach a lunch room where you can safely eat, in your conversation with them — a fact you neglected to mention in your first post with us. You should also mention that several employees have been fired because they took enough time to eat a meal on a 12-hour shift, rather than return after 15 minutes. The MDLI may agree with you, or they may agree with the employer, but you will never know until you file a complaint.

    Here is the problem: The employer is not legally required to give you the three 15-minute rest breaks. If you can get to the nearest restroom, use the toilet and return in 3 minutes or 5 minutes, that is all they are required to give you. So if your complaint is successful, they may switch to giving you an unpaid 30-minute meal break and three paid 5-minute bathroom breaks each day. It sounds like you might prefer that, because at least you would be able to eat. However, some of your coworkers might resent being paid for 11.5 hours each day instead of 12 hours.

    In spite of that, we think you should file a complaint because it is the right thing to do. The employer is breaking the law, and someone should stop them. By all means, if you have additional worker safety complaints relating to lead, or people are eating in areas that contain lead, file a complaint with OSHA at http://www.OSHA.gov.

    Once you file the complaint with MDLI or OSHA, they will investigate the complaint. OSHA may come on site and inspect the workplace. Even if they find the employer has done nothing wrong, by law no one can penalize you for filing a complaint in good faith.

    The employees who were fired for not returning from break on time could also speak to an attorney specializing in employment law about a wrongful termination lawsuit. Apparently they were fired illegally, for taking enough time to eat a meal, as provided by Minnesota law. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  9. So on our break if we want to smoke we have to leave the property. To leave the property we must punch out. Does this mean i loose the right to have my break paid? And does this mean if they are requiring me to punch out and not be paid that I should be getting a 20 minute paid break?

  10. Hi JJW! This is a tricky issue. There is no law that an employer in Minnesota or any other state must allow workers to smoke during the work day. They could make the entire property non-smoking, and not allow you to leave the property during your breaks. Many employers including most hospitals do this.

    Instead, it appears the employer allows you to smoke, but only if you leave the property on your break. That is reasonable. It is also reasonable for them to require that you clock out. If you did not, and were in an accident, it would be workers’ comp. The employer could even be liable for the accident, if you injured someone else while on the clock.

    Under federal law, employees must be paid for a break that is shorter than 20 minutes. So theoretically, if you clock out for a smoke break shorter than 20 minutes, you should be paid for it. If the employer is having you clock out for a 20-minute break off the property, there is no requirement that you be paid for it. Either way, the employer is going far beyond what they are required to provide as breaks in Minnesota. We are not sure why you would think you should get a 20-minute paid break.

    Our advice is that you choose your battles carefully. If you are not being paid for smoke breaks shorter than 20 minutes, you can certainly file a complaint about that. In that case, the employer will probably eliminate smoke breaks entirely, and employees would be required to work their full shift without smoking a cigarette. Your coworkers might not appreciate you causing that change in policy.

    As you read in the article above, Minnesota law requires that employees be given a paid break sufficient to use the nearest toilet once every four hours. That does not include smoking, making cell phone calls, or other activities that can be conducted in the bathroom — it merely includes use of the toilet. So if you complain, the employer might decide to do away with all breaks except the required bathroom break. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  11. Hello Amelia.
    I have a question regarding scheduling. If we are being scheduled 7.5 hours, but actually end up working 8 or more hours due to the store getting busy. Do we have to take a meal break?

  12. Hi David! Yes. The Minnesota meal break law applies to employees who work more than 8 hours, regardless of what the schedule is. The statute specifically mentions the word “work.” HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

  13. Hello,
    I am a hourly employee in Minnesota. Its been common practice that we need to take a One Hour (unpaid) lunch break for a 8 hour work day. Now with the 2 paid 15 min breaks we get, that is a lot of breaks (1.5 hours of breaks).

    I am reading a lot about employers needing to give a 30 min (unpaid) break. Is there anything written that I have to take a One Hour (unpaid) lunch break?

    Thank you

  14. Hi Todd! It is legal for a Minnesota employer to require employees to take a 60-minute unpaid lunch break. The employer can write up or fire any employee who refuses to follow this company policy.

    Generally an employer cannot require that an employee clock out and remain on the premises for more than an hour, under federal law. However, a 60-minute unpaid meal break is fairly routine. That’s why it’s called a “lunch hour.”

    Your employer is not required by law to give you any paid rest breaks.

    The references to a 30-minute unpaid meal break are the MINIMUM that a Minnesota employer MUST provide. However, they are not the MAXIMUM that the Minnesota employer MAY require.

    If you feel you are receiving too many breaks, you can certainly ask your employer to allow you to take just a 30-minute unpaid break — but there is no law that they must agree. Or, you could volunteer to work through your two paid 15-moinute breaks. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

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