Missouri Lunch and Break Law Regulations

I find that lunches and breaks taken by workers are often a subject that is often of great interest to employers and employees alike. In my recent research into this area, I have learned that Missouri is one of a number of states that have no specific regulations covering this topic.

Even though there aren’t any state laws covering this subject, there are applicable federal rules for Missouri residents. It may surprise you to learn that Federal law does not mandate any specific lunches or breaks. The regulations do, however, offer some regulations as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times if an employer chooses to offer breaks during the day.

Short rest breaks — usually 20 minutes or less — should be counted as hours worked. Genuine “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be compensated as work time. An employee must also be completely relieved of his or her duties during this meal break for it to qualify as unpaid. If the employee is still required to do any duties (even small duties such as answering a phone), it must instead be a paid break.

Federal law also contains other provisions related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. 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 facilities are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.

Another issue I find comes up in the area of work hours 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.

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 from home or elsewhere, 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.

Complete information on the laws related to lunches, breaks and other pertinent labor issues can be found on the Missouri Complete Labor Law Poster.

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12 Thoughts on “Missouri Lunch and Break Law Regulations”

Gary Smith

June 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I had worked for [company name deleted], a major oil company for two and a half years and during that time the employees were not allowed to take breaks. All employees work 10 hour shifts and there is no paid or unpaid breaks within that time frame.
I would like to know if the actions of [company name deleted] are legal or not according to Missouri Labor Law.

Thank you,

Gary T. Smith

William T. Johnson

April 19, 2009 at 6:39 pm

My wife has worked for a not for profit company for over five years. During her entire employment she must travel from point A to point B and take her lunch break during that travel time. She must then fill her duties and travel back home.
All sounds fair and legal, but when you break everything down to what it really is, I wonder if it is legal.
She must get up at 4am(most of the time), travel 3 hrs(paid) take her lunch break during that morning travel time, then work 12 to 16 hrs with no breaks or lunches and at the end of the day travel back home(paid).

I know employers do not have to give you any <20 minute breaks, but can they really force you to work 12 hours or more without something to eat??


April 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Hi William! We agree that these are very harsh working conditions. Unfortuantely, they are not illegal in Missouri.
Nineteen U.S. states have break laws that apply to nearly all employees. Some of those states require an additional meal break when the employee works more than 10 hours in the day. Unfortunately, Missouri has no such law. In fact, if the employer required that your wife work the entire time without any meal break, that would still be legal in Missouri.
There may be an alternative. OSHA regulations require that employees be permitted to drink water while on duty. Most employers extend this to other liquids, as well. Your wife could probably take a prepackaged liquid protein shake or other nutritious beverage, and drink that while on duty. And, of course, you can contact your state representative about getting a meal break law for Missouri workers. HTH, and thanks for reading the blog.

debra montgomery

August 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

my husband works for a missouri private owner (family business) there are 4 motel/hotels. they have paid/unpaid breaks. paid if your a non-smoker. you must clock off if you are smoking while taking a break.does this still fall under the NO BREAK LAWS for Missouri?many employee’s are affected by this seemingly bias rule.


August 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Hi debra! There is no federal or Missouri law that makes it illegal to discriminate against smokers.
However, under the federal FLSA, an employer must pay workers for any scheduled rest breaks that are shorter than 20 minutes. The employees can be written up or fired for taking additional breaks (which most smokers do) but theoretically must be paid for the breaks. Your husband can certain object, but then the employer can require that everyone take no rest breaks during the day, or take only one rest break during the day. Most smokers take multiple shorter breaks. If this is the case, your husband may not want to tackle this issue. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia


February 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I live and work in the state of Missouri. I work at a university in the library. I am the only employee in the library from 9am to 6pm M-F. I do not have a set time to take breaks or go to lunch and it is difficult to get out of the library for a break and lunch. I eat lunch at my desk three to four days a week and I am not paid for my time. My superior thinks that I am supposed to be in the library the entire day. When I walk out to the ladies room, I am questioned as to who is watching the library. At 6 pm I should be off, but my relief person is not here most days. He is late or just does not show up and I end up working more time. Is this illegal or just unfair?


February 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Hi Debbie! All of this is legal and unfair except for one sentence. As you know from reading the article above, there is no law that requires a Missouri employer to give meal or rest breaks to employees. An employee can be required to work all day without a meal break. That is not fair, it does not create good working conditions or even increase productivity, but it is lawful.

Even in states that requre employers to give meal breaks to workers, an employee can be required to remain on the premises during meal or rest breaks. There is no requirement that an employee must be permitted outside to take a break, smoke or get a breath of fresh air during the day.

However, we are concerned when you say that you are not paid when you eat lunch at your desk. Under the federal FLSA, a meal break can be unpaid only if the employee is relieved of all duties during the break. If you were required to remain on the premises, but could eat your lunch undisturbed, then you need not be paid for that time. However, if the employer expects you to answer the phone if it rings while you are eating, or assist a library patron with a question while you are eating, then you must be paid for that time. If you are an hourly employee who works 9 am to 6 pm daily with an on-duty meal break, you should be paid for 9 hours per day.

OSHA worker safety regulations permit an employee to use the toilet when nature calls. This does not include making cell phone call, smoking or other activities that can be conducted in the bathroom. It merely covers using the toilet. You are entitled to use the nearest toilet as frequently as you need to. However, if there is a bathroom inside the library, there is no regulation that would permit you to leave the building to go to a ladies’ room in another building. (The next time your supervisor questions you regarding who is watching the library while you are in the toilet, you should tactfully ask how he or she would prefer that you handle the situation when you must use the bathroom.)

Your employer can require that you reamain on duty until your relief person arrives. However, again, if you are an hourly employee you must be paid for that time. If this results in you working more than 40 hours per week, you must be paid overtime. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Branden Bodine

June 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I work for Missouri department of social services rehabilitating youth. We take them on outings, camping, where we stay several nights. While we are given 8 hours off to sleep, or whatever, we are not allowed to bring our private vehicles. We are only paid for 16 hours but again are not really allowed to leave. This has been a hot topic for a long time, people not wanting to go on outings due to it. Should we not be paid for 24 hours?


June 21, 2014 at 7:18 am

This is a complex topic Braden, and it might take an employment lawyer to sort it out. Employers are generally responsible for paying employees for all time worked. However, your assumption that because you can’t get in your car and drive away, you are working, is invalid. There are many similar instances where workers are unpaid. For example, an hourly employee might be sent to a 2-day seminar in another state via airplane. If the employee attends the seminar 10 hours per day, he is entitled to 10 hours of pay. He is not entitled to 24 hours of pay, simply because he can’t return to the comfort of his own bed that night.

There is a similar situation for workers on oil rigs. They may actually work 14 hours per day. Because they are in the middle of the ocean, they do not have the option of returning home each evening. However they are still paid only for 14 hours of work per day. So a more productive way to look at this might be that you are on a temporary assignment out of town.

The complication here is that youth are present. Under the federal FLSA, if an employee is required to be on duty for 24 hours or more, and is usually able to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, the employee need not be paid for regularly scheduled sleeping periods of up to 8 hours under the federal FLSA. On the other hand, if your night’s rest is frequently interrupted by work demands (such as supervising the youth) then you might be entitled to payment for the entire period. However, it might take several court cases and appeals, and there is no guarantee you would win in the end.

Jane Kolar

January 7, 2015 at 4:38 pm

I’m curious to know if employer’s have the right to request or restrict employees from doing specific things that the company deems unsafe (but the employees feel its ok) while the employees are on their unpaid lunch in the company break room? Or are employees free to do anything they please because they are ‘off the clock’? We hear “I’m off the clock, they can’t do anything” in the break room all the time and I am wondering how true this really is and to what extent. Thank you.

Denise Werner

February 5, 2015 at 9:33 am

My fiance has been at his place of employment for 18 yrs. Company just got bought out and they are requiring 30 min lunch breaks with no pay. He since jan has been getting deducted for lunch but does not get to take a lunch. Where do i make a report about this?

kirk white

May 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I would like to know If it is legal for your company to allow the boss, to give a 30 to 45 min. lunch break ( paid ) to one of the employees and not allow any one else on the same shift, to take any breaks

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