In researching state laws on the topic of lunches and breaks, I learned that Tennessee is one of a handful states that has a specific law mandating meal breaks for employees in the state. If a Tennessee employee has worked at least six consecutively in a given day, he or she must be given a 30 minute unpaid break.
For this break to qualify as unpaid, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties. If an employee must do any of his or her work duties during this break, it cannot qualify as an unpaid break. This statute applies to all workers of all ages. The Tennessee state law also mandates that this break not take place during or before the first hour of an employee’s shift.
The only exception written into the law is for workers who have ample opportunity during their work day to “rest or take appropriate breaks.” All other employers must give this break according to the law. Violation of this Tennessee law is considered a Class B misdemeanor. A fine of at least $100 but not more than $500 can be given to employers for each violation of the law. A civil penalty of between $500 and $1000 can also be imposed at the discretion of the Labor Commissioner if the violation is found to be willful.
Tennessee law does not provide for any other breaks during the workday other than this 30 minute unpaid meal period. However, if employers plan to give short breaks to workers during the day, Federal law states that these must be paid breaks if they are 20 minutes or less in length.
A helpful presentation of laws on this topic, as well as all other labor issues, can be found on the Tennessee Complete Labor Law Poster.