Lunch and Break Law Requirements in New Jersey

Recently, I’ve been reviewing the laws related to lunches, breaks and other work hour issues. I think it is interesting to note that New Jersey does not have any laws on the books specifically related to this area, except those pertaining to minors. New Jersey law requires that minors under age 18 must be given an uninterrupted meal or rest period of at least 30 minutes if they have worked five hours or more continuously.

Although New Jersey does not have a lunch and break law for those persons 18 and over, there are applicable federal rules for New Jersey citizens. While Federal Law does not mandate specific breaks or meal periods, it does give guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times. Short breaks are usually 20 minutes or less, and 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. For this to be the case, however, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties during the meal break. If the employee is still required to do any duties (even minor duties such as answering a phone), it can’t be considered a meal or lunch period and must be paid.

Federal law also contains other provisions related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. 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.

Another issue I sometimes 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.

Finally, 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.

A helpful listing of information on the laws related to lunches, breaks and other pertinent labor issues can be found on the New Jersey Complete Labor Law Poster.

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21 Thoughts on “Lunch and Break Law Requirements in New Jersey”

Ashley

May 23, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Question: Is there anything where it says there is a designated time people can/cannot go on breaks? For instance: I work 9-5 and a co-worker works 2:30-10:30. I am not able to take a break until the person comes in at 2:30, therefore after my hour.. at 3:30 the employee that just came in must go on break 1 hour into their shift. Is there anything for this??

Amelia

May 23, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Ashley, a number of states do have regulations about this. For a complete answer regarding your home state of New Jersey, post a question on our HR forum at http://www.laborlawtalk.com. Thanks, and keep on reading! Amelia

June 29, 2010 at 11:46 am

So according to this, if an employee takes a 20 minute lunch break and comes back quick punches in, then punches out for a 5 minute ‘smoke’ break, and then another 15 minute break later, they are entitled to be paid all this time?

Amelia

June 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Hi Paulo! Well, under federal law an employee must be paid for all breaks under 20 minutes. So in your example, if the employee takes a 19 minute meal break, punches out for a 5-minute smoke break and then takes another 15 minute break later, the employee must be paid for all this time.

The employee can be disciplined or terminated for taking more breaks than approved by the employer, but the employee must be paid for these breaks. There is no law that a New Jersey employer must give smoke breaks, and many employers would terminate an employee who took a smoke break immediately after a meal break. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Jennifer Manley

November 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I live in New Jersey, is there any law that says if an employee is scheduled 9-6 (example) and the employer decides you are not needed for that shift once you have already reported to work, can they send you home? Or is the employeer required to either pay you for 3 hour or allow you to work at least the first 3 hours of your shift?

Amelia

November 3, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Hi Jennifer! It is completely legal for the employer to send a worker home early in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the employee is entitled only to payment for the time he or she worked. An employee could even be sent home before they clock in, and entitled to no pay.

A few states have regulations concerning reporting pay, a minimum number of hours that an employee must be paid for if he or she reports for a scheduled shift. For example, in California, an employee must be paid for half the scheduled shift, at a minimum, even if the employee is immediately sent home. However, New Jersey has no such law. The only relevant law would be the state minimum wage, which requires that an employee be paid for all the time he or she works. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

Melissa

November 24, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I was wondering if it legal for my job to automatically take 2 hours a week out of my pay for lunch breaks, when in fact I only work 4 days a week and never put in more than 37 hours. I also drive a delivery van and never stop and take a 30 minute break anyway.

Amelia

November 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Hi Melissa! This is illegal because you never take the breaks. If you stopped for 30 minutes to eat each day, the employer could dock your pay for 2 hours per week, regardless of how many hours per week or days per week you work. However, since you are not taking the breaks, you are entitled to payment for that time.

Be aware that a New Jersey employer can require that employees take meal breaks, and can discipline or terminate any employee who neglects to do so. You could file a wage claim for the unpaid wages (30 minutes per day worked) with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development at http://lwd.state.nj.us/labor/index.html. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Cynthia

December 15, 2010 at 8:09 pm

In the state of New Jersey is it legal for an employer to take your bathroom and ten minute breaks out of your paycheck when you work 6 hours a day? And when you work 8 hours a day is it legal for your bathroom and 2 15 minute breaks come out of your check?

Amelia

December 16, 2010 at 8:54 am

Hi Cynthia! If the employer is covered under the federal FLSA, they must pay employees for any breaks shorter than 20 minutes. The FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act (the federal minimum wage and overtime law) covers employers with more than $500,000 in annual revenue, and employees who engage in interstate commerce. If you believe that you are covered under that law, tactfully discuss it with the employer. If you are still not paid, file a wage complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor at http://www.dol.gov. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a wage complaint. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Clark

February 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I have a question, my employer took the sink out of our break/lunchroom because it was”leaking”a little bit. It has been 5 months and it still is not in. I have to wash my hands in the bathroom them open up 2 doors to get to the lunchroom. Let me add I work at a waste water treatment plant so it isn’t the cleanest of places. I feel that opening 2 dirty doors to eat is not sanitary. What are your thoughts? Thanks

Amelia

February 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hi Clark! Our thoughts are that this is probably legal, but maybe you should carry hand sanitizer.

OSHA worker safety regulations require that employers protect the health of employees by providing a safe and reasonably sanitary work environment. In particular, the OSHA regulations require that there be a hand-washing sink available to employees. However, having the sink in the bathroom is usually sufficient to meet those standards.

The dilemma is that while OSHA gives employers guidelines, they base enforcement actions on individual situations. For example, OSHA has determined that a single hand-washing sink in the bathroom is sufficient in an office or convenience store, but additional hand-washing sinks are required in a restaurant kitchen. It may very well be that OSHA would determine that a hand-washing sink is required in the break room of a waste water treatment plant, since employees are likely to be handling sewerage all day.

The only way to tell for sure is to file a complaint with OSHA at http://www.osha.gov and request an inspection. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint with OSHA in good faith, even if OSHA later determines that no worker safety regulations have been violated. Meanwhile, using hand sanitizer before eating is probably a good idea. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Benny

March 16, 2011 at 8:17 am

Can an employer make you stay during your “lunch” (a 45 min break) time for a company meeting then have you go back to work and deduct then deduct an hour from your pay?

Can the employer give you a 45 min break but deduct an hour from you pay?

Amelia

March 16, 2011 at 9:47 am

Hi Benny! The answer to both questions is “no.” Under both the federal FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act and the New Jersey minimum wage law, an employee msut be paid for all the time he works. If the employee takes a 45-minute meal period during which he is relieved of all duties, he need not be paid for that time. However, being in a meeting is working. So the employee must be paid for that time.

In your example, if the employee takes a 45-minute meal break, only 45 minutes can be deducted from his work time — not an hour. If the employee is required to attend a meeting during that 45 minutes, he should be paid for the entire time.

You should tactfully bring this to the attention of HR or management. If you and the other employees are not paid for the time, you can file a wage complaint with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development at http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/wagehour/complnt/filing_wage_claim.html. It is illegal for the employer to retaliate against an employee who files a wage complaint. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Azu

March 21, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Hi is it legel for an employee to work 7 or 8 hours a day without going on break?

Amelia

March 22, 2011 at 8:06 am

Hi Azu! Yes, in New Jersey this is legal. Nineteen U.S. states have laws that require meal breaks for employees. New Jersey does not.

OSHA, the federal worker safety agency, requires that employees be permitted to use the bathroom when nature calls. Other than that, a New Jersey employer is not required to give meal or rest breaks to workers in general industry. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Dan

August 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Why doesn’t New Jersey have laws about taking breaks. It’s unsafe for workers, especially those who work 12-14 hr shifts, to work straight through without a break. C’mon New Jersey, get with the program!

Roxanne

June 23, 2014 at 11:40 am

Our office works three 8:00 to 8:00 days. Our employees take an hour unpaid lunch and ninety percent of the time get a half hour paid. Lunch starts at 12:00 and we return at 12:30. We buy dinner and employees eat in between patients. An employee told me legally they need two paid 15 min. breaks. Is that true?

Thank you, Roxanne

Amelia

June 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

No, it is not true that you must provide additional breaks in New Jersey.

But first, let’s review your meal break policy. If we understand your post correctly, all employees stop work between 12:00 and 12:30 for an unpaid 30 minute meal break. In addition, you generously purchase dinner for your employees. However, if employees eat between taking care of patients, that is not truly a meal break. It’s an acceptable policy and you can continue it, but under both federal and New Jersey law, you must pay employees for this time, since they are working or on call during this period. (By law, an employee must be completely free of all work duties in order for the meal break to be unpaid.) So in fact you are giving your employees a 30 minute unpaid break and allowing them to eat dinner between patients. This is a wise policy and probably increases employee productivity during 12 hour shifts.

New Jersey does not have any law requiring meal, rest or smoke breaks for employees who are 18 years of age or older. The neighboring state of New York does require meal and rest breaks for nearly every employee. However, New Jersey does not. Unless your employees are covered by a union contract or similar agreement, they are not entitled to additional breaks.

If we have misunderstood your break policy, post another question and we’ll address it.

Aviles

July 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Can my employer pay me for only 7.75 instead of an 8 hour holiday paid time off. The company is closed for the holiday and we are supposed to be off with pay. I normally work 8 hrs a day (40 wk) by law are they allow to deduct the .25 from my pay. I reviewed their handbook and it does not mention anything about deducting any paid time off.

Amelia

July 4, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Hi Aviles,

Generally speaking, yes, in many cases the employer can pay for fewer hours for holiday pay, if that is in accordance with company policy.

In NJ as in most states, there is no law that the employer must give paid holidays to workers. If the employer does give paid holidays to workers, the employer can establish the policy, as long as it’s fair to all workers.

In your case, the employer might have a formal policy of paying only 7.75 hours of holiday pay. Or, it may be that although you are scheduled for 8 hours, with unpaid breaks, etc. you actually average 7.75 per day over a period of months. In either case, the employer can pay only 7.75 hours for holiday pay.

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