Massachusetts State Lunch and Break Law Requirements

Lunches and Breaks are a subject of much interest by employers and employees alike. In reviewing state laws related to this area, I have found that Massachusetts has several pertinent state regulations.

If an employee works six or more consecutive hours, he or she is entitled under Massachusetts law to a 30 minute meal break. In order for this to qualify as an unpaid break, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties, and must be free to engage in personal activities during this time. The state law provides for a penalty of at least $300, but no more than $600 per violation if this law is not carried out.

The Massachusetts lunch and break law does not apply in certain types of employment situations. These include “iron works, glass works, paper mills, letter press establishments, print works, bleach works, and dyeing works.” Because of the nature of these types of industrial work environments, they are exempt under state law. Other types of industrial facilities may be added to this list with permission of the state Attorney General.

Workplaces with a collective bargaining agreement regarding breaks are also exempt from this meal break law. Finally, if an employee voluntarily gives up his or her lunch break, he or she is permitted to work through it under state law.

Massachusetts law does not specifically provide for any other breaks during the workday other than this 30 minute unpaid meal period. However, if employers do wish 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 complete summary of Massachusetts’ lunch and break laws may be found on the Complete Massachusetts Labor Law Poster. This poster also contains detailed information on many other aspects of both federal and state labor laws.

Bookmark the permalink

40 Thoughts on “Massachusetts State Lunch and Break Law Requirements”

June 17, 2008 at 1:24 pm

I am working for a company that is forcing me to take a 1/2 hour break. When I had originally started I was hired through the general manager who hired me for 30 hours a week. He had asked me if I had been taking a 1/2 hour break after two weeks of me working there. (He works out of another office in a different state). I told him “no” and he stated to me that that was fine because he had hired me to get paid the straight 6 hours. After talking with the woman who handles payroll she told me that I needed to take a break. Where I only work 6 hours do I have to take that break? Now I am running into the problem that I am not getting paid for holidays. When I asked payroll they never got back to me. My general manager looked into it and stated that in order to get paid holiday pay that we need to work 30 hours. We would be doing so but we are being docked the 1/2 hour break now. Just recently, today, I put in for life insurance and was told that I am not eligible. Again, the minimum to qualify is 30 hours. I questioned this because one of our salesmen was offered the life insurance. When I asked payroll if they got paid holidays she told me “No, they are part time also”. If this is the case then why is he eligible for Life insurance and I am not. Is this something I should go to the BBB with?

Amelia

June 18, 2008 at 10:12 am

Hi Julie! Many people are surprised to learn that the Better Business Bureau or BBB has absolutely nothing to do with labor law. For complete answers to all your questions, please post them on our sister site http://www.laborlawtalk.com. And thanks for reading the blog! Amelia

Amanda

July 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

I work for an employer who has me working a 12-hour shift at least once a week. How long of a break am I entitled to? I know 6 or more hours is a half hour, but if I am working a 12 hour day, am I entitled to a FULL hour break OUTSIDE the office? Also, when I do work 6+ hours a day, my employer will not allow me to leave the office, stating that my “whole reason for employment is to answer the phones.” Is this unlawful that I do not get a break outside the office, but have to work through it and still mark it on a timesheet as an unpaid break?? We need to clear things up since she does not, (and has stated clearly), know the Massachusetts laws on lunch breaks. Thank you!!

Amelia

July 26, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Hi Amanda! According the the Department of Labor, a Massachusetts employee is entitled to a half hour break “if work is for more than 6 hours.” So while it would be very humane and good management to give you a second unpaid meal break on a 12-hour shift, it’s not a legal requirement. Also, employers can legally require that the employee remain on the premesis during his or her meal break. However, the employee must be relieved of all duties during the meal break — and this includes answering the phone. Under federal law, you must be paid for the break if you have to work, or be available to work, during any portion of it. Being available to answer the phones would count as work. (Also, it appears that a paid break would not satisfy the Massachusetts meal break requirement.) For a complete discussion of this issue, please post your questions on our sister site at http://www.laborlawtalk.com. And thanks for reading the blogs! Amelia

Crystal

August 16, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I work for a company which is a chain throughout the U.S. Corporate is based in the state of CA. I work in MA. They claim that because in CA they can force you to take a one hour, unpaid break if you work at least 8 hours, that they can force us to take a one hour, unpaid break here in MA, because of Corporate. Is this true? I don’t believe them and I want to know! Thank you.

Amelia

August 18, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Hi Crystal! In every state, an employer can require that employees take a 60-minute unpaid meal break on an 8-hour shift. In fact, the employer could require that the employee take such a break on a 3 hour shift. Any employee who does not cooperate can be disciplined or terminated.
Nineteen US states have laws that REQUIRE employers to give breaks to workers. However, in every state the employer is PERMITTED to give breaks to workers, and can make those breaks mandatory. The employer can establish a policy that employees must take an unpaid break, and fire any employee who does not follow the policy. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

MC

November 18, 2009 at 10:55 am

I’m working for an employer that is forcing me to work 9hrs every day without lunch break. My schedule is suppose to be 37.5. However, they pay me for the OT worked but i really want my 30 minute meal break. What should i do? Can i sue them for been forcing me to work through my lunch and also staying OT with out a break even to water!!!!

Please help me!!

Amelia

November 19, 2009 at 12:17 am

Hi MC! This is not fair, and is probably a violation of the Massachusetts break law. That law requires a half-hour meal break on a shift of 6 hours or more, and has very few exclusions. Contact the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development to file a complaint. Meanwhile, bring bottled water to work and drink it at your work station. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Gennifer

March 23, 2010 at 2:33 am

I work at a small hospital where employees receive a 30 minute unpaid meal break during their shift. It is a constant source of debate whether the hospital can legally dictate whether or not an employee may sleep while off the clock. The administration feels that due to the nature of our work (nurses and nurse aides), and that at night there are considerably fewer staff members than in daytimes, that sleeping on a meal break is unacceptable. The staff feels that since they are on their own time and not being paid, that their activity cannot be dictated by administration.

Amelia

March 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Hi Gennifer! This is a gray area, and it may take a lawsuit to resolve it. We can see valid arguments for both sides.

Your assumption that an employee can do whatever he or she wants to while on break is invalid. Employers can and do place reasonable restrictions on an employee’s behavior while on a meal break on company premises. Many employers prohibit smoking while on breaks. No employer is going to let you practice the violin in the break room. Almost every employer would require that workers refrain from practicing their stripper-pole exercises while on break, to cite just one more example.

In this case, the employee could conceivably be called back to work in an emergency, which would necessitate them being alert. Employees are expected to come to work fully rested and able to stay awake during the whole shift. This is an issue that affects the quality of patient care. Particularly on a night shift, there is always a risk that employees will sleep on the job when they should be working. Unfortunately, sometimes when an employee is caught sleeping on the job, he or she claims to be on a meal break, and says that they just forgot to punch out. The best way for an employer to eliminate this problem is simply to not allow sleeping during meal breaks.

On the other hand, you can argue that taking a brief nap while on a meal break actually improves employee alertness and patient care. As long as the employee was clocked out, and did not exceed their allotted break time, we see no harm in this. But ultimately, unless you sue the employer, it is their decision. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Paul

May 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I work 12 hour shifts in a factory in Massachusetts and we are currently given a paid 1/2 hour break. There is some discussion of changing the policy to (among other suggestions) giving us a paid 1/2 hour break where we would have to remain at our work station during the entire break, they said we wouldn’t have to work…..just stay there the whole time. Are there any provisions in the law that requires a lunch break to be away from your work area?

Amelia

May 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Hi Paul! No, there is no Massachusetts law that specifically requires that employees take the lunch break away from the work area. However, employees usually cannot be required to work during the lunch break, even to observe that machinery is running correctly. This depends partly upon what type of factory it is, and whether you are working under a union contract.

In Massachusetts, an employer is required to give workers a 30-minute lunch break if the shift is more than 6 hours. The break may be unpaid, if the employee is relieved of all work duties. However, iron works, glass works, paper mills, letter press operations, print works and bleaching or dye works are exempt from this law. (We will note that the employer is at least trying to do the right thing, by paying employees for the lunch break.)

The Labor Commissioner may exempt a factory, workshop or mechanical establishment if he deems it necessary due to a continuous process, to have employees work through their meal break. In addition, there is an exception under the law for special circumstances including a union contract. For a reading on whether this break meets the required standard for Massachusetts employers, contact the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Caryn

May 20, 2010 at 11:48 am

Hello! My position was recently changed from a salaried position to an hourly position. I have been told that if I do not take a lunch break a 1/2 hour will be automatically deducted from my pay. I understand that the employer legally has to offer the half hour break. But, if I do not want to take my lunch break and choose to work through it can they legally deduct the half hour? Can a company force their employees to take the 1/2 hour lunch?

Amelia

May 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

Hi Caryn! Under Massachusetts law, the employee must take a 30-minute meal break on a shift of 6 hours or more. Some states permit the employee to waive the meal break, if they do so in writing. Massachusetts does not. So if you do not take the meal break, the employer has broken the law. Yes, the employer can require that you take a meal break and can discipline or terminate you for not taking one.

However, under both the Massachusetts and federal minimum wage laws, an hourly employee must be paid for all the time she works. If you work through the meal break, you are entitled to payment for that time. The solution here is simple. The employer requires that you take a half-hour meal break, and you should comply. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

June 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

[Employer name deleted] hospital has continuously not supported staffing with their legal half hour break. not only do staff not get a half hour to themselves, the company REFUSES to pay for it! i thought that was illegal! various people have complained and management have made it clear it was our choice not to take our break, this is FALSE. staff is not allowed to leave the unit unattended unless we would like to be fired. therefore, we must be replaced in order to leave and then take a break. our “break” does not mean we continue to work the unit but get to sit down for 30 minutes. this is a joke and needs immediate consequences.

Amelia

June 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Hi voice! You are right — this is both unfair and illegal. Massachusetts law requires that most employees be given a 30-minute meal break (although that may not apply if staffing shortages make it a public safety issue.) If you are not given a meal break, you must be paid for the time. If you have worked 100 days without taking a meal break, the employer owes you 50 hours of wages. Our suggestion is that you file a wage complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The more people who file a complaint, the better. It is illegal for the employer to take negative action against an employee who files a complaint. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

read more about this at: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=elwdterminal&L=6&L0=Home&L1=Workers+and+Unions&L2=Wage+and+Employment+Related+Programs&L3=Minimum+Wage+Program&L4=Opinion+Letters+by+Year&L5=2005+Opinion+Letters&sid=Elwd&b=terminalcontent&f=dos_mw_docs_mw_2005_002&csid=Elwd

July 27, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Hi,

In Massachusetts does a company have to offer a 10-15 minute break for anyone working 4+ hours?

Thanks!

Amelia

July 28, 2010 at 7:50 am

Hi Kim! No, Massachusetts has no law regarding short rest breaks, and no law regarding breaks on a shift of 4 hours or so. If the employee will work 6 hours or more, they must be given a meal break of 30 minutes. OSHA worker safety regulations require that employees be permitted to use the toilet when nature calls, but this does not extend to making phone calls, smoking, etc. even in the bathroom. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Marie

October 15, 2010 at 11:06 am

I understand that an employee have to work 6+ hours to be available for 1/2 hour lunch. My question is if you have completed your 6 hours and you take your 1/2 hour lunch one minute or 2 minute after the 6 hours, the employer can discipline or terminate you just because you took your lunch a minute or 2 after your 6 hours work been completed?

Amelia

October 15, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Hi Marie! You seem to be under the impression that you must wait until the 6th hour to take your meal break. This is not the case. An employee who is scheduled to work 6 hours or more in Massachusetts can take the meal break after the 3rd hour, or the 4th hour, or even after 5.5 hours. Yes, the employer can discipline or terminate an employee who does not take the meal break per company policy — even if that policy is more strict than state law. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Melinda

November 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I have been working for a company since July. They make us take a half hour unpaid break when we only work a five hour or a five and a half hour shift. Do I have a right to say, I don’t want to take the break. And only take a fifteen?

Amelia

November 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Hi Melinda! Sure, you have the right to say, “I don’t want to take a 30-minute meal break, I’m only going to take a 15-minute paid break.” And then they have the right to say, “You’re fired!”

Seriously, an employer in any state can require that an employee take an unpaid 30-minute meal break and discipline or terminate any employee who refuses to follow this company policy. The Massachusetts meal break law is the minimum standard that the employer must follow — it is not the maximum standard that the employer can impose. Meal breaks have been shown to improve employee productivity, and are a very common way for the employer to save a few payroll dollars. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

Chris

November 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm

No idea if anyone even looks at this any more but here it goes. I recently quit my job at a security company and upon leaving they received several complaints that I was not at my post, that I left early, etc. I was there for the whole 21 hours over a Sat and Sun and now they are saying they aren’t going to pay me for the hours I worked because the client did not want to be billed. Is this legal? I have no clause in my contract with them that states they can do this.

Amelia

November 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Hi Chris! No, this is not legal. Both the federal and Massachusetts minimum wage laws require that an employee be paid for every hour he or she works. (Even if you had such a clause in your contract, it would not be legal.) By law, the employer has to keep accurate payroll records of the hours the employee works, so the onus is on them, not on you.

If the client refuses to pay the security company, that is between the two of them. But by law, the security company must pay the employee. The state minimum wage law is enforced by the Massachusetts Attorney General. You should file a wage complaint ASAP at http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=cagotopic&L=2&L0=Home&L1=Workplace+Rights&sid=Cago. Someone from the Attorney General’s office will investigate, and if they find the employer owes you money, they will force the employer to pay you. We check the comments 7 days per week, so feel free to post any additional questions you might have. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

steve

December 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I work a 12 hour shift, i think i’m entitled to more than a half hour break. help.

Amelia

December 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Hi steve! Many people would agree with you. Unfortunately, the state of Massachusetts does not. Massachusetts law simply requires a meal break of 30 minutes or more on any shift over 6 hours. Sadly, whether the shift is 6.5 hours or 16 hours, the law does not require anything more. Of course, many employers go above and beyond what the law requires and give an employee more breaks on a shift, particularly if it is 12 hours or more. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

maddy

January 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Hi Amelia,
I work as a therapist in a SNF setting, we are told that we are required to take a 30 min lunch break if we work 6 hours or more. I do not put down a lunch break at all because I always work through it, my paperwork can not get down if I dont. I do go to get a drink which I consider as my 15 min break. We are always interupted by patients or family or staff and never have a time to “step back” and have that break. Is it my right not to take a lunch? Thanks!

Amelia

January 5, 2011 at 7:49 am

Hi maddy! No, employees in Massachusetts do not have a right to decline a lunch break. In Massachusetts as in other states, the employer sets the work schedule and can require employees to take a meal break. The employer could even require that you take a one-hour meal break on any shift of 2 hours or more, if they wanted. Any employee who declines can be disciplined or terminated.

As you know from the article above, Massachusetts law requires that you be given a meal break when working a shift of 6 hours or more. Some states allow an employee to decline the meal break as long as this is done in writing. Massachusetts does not, so each day you skip your lunch break the employer is in violation of the law.

If you are relieved of all duties during a meal break it can be unpaid. If you are interrupted during a meal break then generally you must be paid for the entire break. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

January 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Hey there,

When I started working for this company I am at right now, they told me the hours would be 9-5 with “No real lunch break.” I’ve been here for a year and when I was offered this job it was a desperate situation and I needed the job so I figured I would inquire about this later on and just be thankful I had a job during difficult economic times. Anyway, I am an admin and as part of my duties I answer the phones. I was told that the reason why I cannot leave the building is because it’s my job to answer phones and if there is no one in the office to cover I cannot leave. Therefore, I have to stay inside all day everyday I don’t even get 10-15 minutes to take personal calls or take a walk outdoors in the summer. Likewise, whenever I have to come in late/leave early for an appointment they always deduct it from my paycheck. Couldn’t they just give me that time since they don’t let me take any breaks during the day. If I need to to that or leave the office during the day it’s a process and I am often uncomfortable asking. I just want to know what my rights are in this situation and if I can report them for any of this.

Amelia

January 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Hi Angela! The company is probably in violation of the Massachusetts meal break law, which requires that employees be given a meal break of 30 minutes or more when working a shift of 8 hours or more. You can definitely file a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development. However, that law does not require that you be allowed to go outside. An employer can require that employees remain on the premises during an unpaid break, and many do.
There is no requirement that the employer pay an hourly employee for time spent away from the office, and it would be very, very unusual for any employer to do so. Employers make it a process for employees to take off early or come in late to underscore how important regular attendance is. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

Gaby

February 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Hi I work for a clothing retail store and they are giving me 8 hours a day but out the 8 hours they want to subtract me with a 30min break and weekly ima get 37.50 out of 40 . Is that legal cause most of retail that I work for they give me 8.30 hours so I could have 40?

Amelia

February 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi Gaby! Assuming that you are taking an unpaid 30-minute meal break each day, yes, this is legal.

There is no law that an employer has to schedule you to work 40 hours per week, or 37 hours per week or even 30-35 hours per week. This is entirely the employer’s option. They can pretty much schedule an employee for whatever number of hours they choose. Some employers schedule workers for 40 hours per week and some do not. Either way is entirely legal. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Maddy

February 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Amelia, so your saying, even though I am always working through my lunch break I still need to put down a lunch and not get paid? I dont know that I find that a fair law? I dont do it purposely, it just happens that way, I dont have anytime to complete the paperwork that we are required to do or we are threatened to get written up if not. So, do I take a lunch carefree, not doing the paperwork required, not answering family stop ins or calls, and not answering staff/patients when they come by?

Amelia

February 3, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Hi Maddy! No, we are saying that if it is company policy that you take a 30-minute unpaid lunch break, you should follow that policy. If you work through your lunch break, you are entitled to payment for that time. However, your employer can require that you take an unpaid 30-minute meal break, and discipline or terminate you for not doing so. When you skip your lunch break, your employer has broken state law. Many Massachusetts employers would have a problem with an employee who puts them in that position. Ideally, you would clarify with your employer their policy on working through lunch breaks before it becomes a major problem.

You asked if you have the right to skip your lunch break in Massachusetts. The answer is no — the law requires the employer to give workers a lunch break. Some states allow workers to voluntarily waive the lunch break as long as they do so in writing. Massachusetts does not. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

john

February 23, 2011 at 6:58 am

I work an 8 1/2 hour shift,with the half being for lunch.If the employer chooses to do so,could they allow a straight 8 hours with only a 20 minute lunch? Thanks

Amelia

February 23, 2011 at 7:35 am

Hi john! In most cases, no. The Massachusetts law specifically requires a 30-minute meal break. It does exclude workers in certain industries, such as iron and glass works. The law also permits the Massachusetts Labor Commissioner to grant exemption to a factory where the nature of the business requires continuous operation of machinery. However, in all other circumstances, the meal break must be a half hour. A Massachusetts employer could opt to allow a worker to take an unpaid 30-minute lunch break and go home after working 7.5 hours. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

D

November 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Hi Amelia,
First I would like to say thank you for thank you for this blog that easily states these laws for us. But just to be sure I will ask anyway. I work for an independently owned resaurant and work both five hour and ten hour shifts. My employer does not offer breaks of any kind, paid or not paid. After reading this it looks as if on the days that I work ten hour shifts I am entitled to one, and am not entitled to any type of break during my five hour shift.

Basically the reason I am researching these laws is because as lame as it is I am a smoker, my managers allow me to take a quick five minute break to smoke but it is at my own risk that the owner catches me. I am just wondering what if any type of break I am entitled to.

Thanks,
D

Amelia

December 2, 2011 at 10:10 am

Hi D! Thank you for the kind words! Unfortunately, we are shutting down the comments section of this blog. Our staff will continue to respond to questions or concerns posted as comments on http://www.humanresourceblog.com. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

July 31, 2014 at 9:44 am

my work day is 6.5 hours and I am paid for 6.5 hours. The day includes a working lunch. I was never told my lunch is a working lunch and they are saying this working lunch constitutes the required 30 minute lunch break defined by mass law. I am now told I have the option of taking an unpaid 30 minute break or keep the paid 30 minute working lunch to meet the requirements of the law. Does this sound right?.

Amelia

August 1, 2014 at 9:46 am

Yes, Joseph, this is lawful and is the general practice in HR. Under MA law, an employee is entitled to a 30 minute meal break after 6 hours. There is no requirement that a meal break of 20 minutes or more be paid. If you work while eating, then you should be paid for that time. If you are relieved of all work duties, under both federal and state law this meal break can be unpaid.

However, an employee who is still on call, or working their assigned location, is not “relieved of all duties” For example, a receptionist who is required by her employer to eat lunch at her desk and to be available to answer the phone if it rings, is not “relieved of all duties.” She must be paid for her meal break. This is true, even if there are no calls on a particular day.

If your employer has permitted you to eat while working in the past, then they have complied with the law. If you were working a 6.5 hour shift and forbidden from eating while working, then they were in violation of MA meal break laws.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *