Tennessee State Lunch and Break Law Requirements

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.

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98 Thoughts on “Tennessee State Lunch and Break Law Requirements”


April 4, 2011 at 8:25 am

If an employee works an 8 hour shift and they employer give the employee 2 paid 10 minute breaks and 1 paid 20 minute break, does this violate TN law?


April 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

Hi Angelia! Yes, this ir probably a violation of state law. The Tennessee meal break law requires that employees be given a meal break of 30 minutes or more, on any shift of 6 hours or more. The meal break can be unpaid. There are few exceptions to that law, but it covers most employers. Giving workers paid 10-minute breaks (which are not required by law) does not eliminate the legal requirement for the employer to give a 30-minute meal break. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia


April 5, 2011 at 6:39 am

If training on specific materials pertaining to a job is required. Is it legal to make the employee complete the training on line unpaid?


April 5, 2011 at 7:10 am

Hi Chris! When training is mandatory and specific to this employer, the employee must be paid for it. The employer must also pay for training when the employer controls when or where training will take place, and it is mandatory.

Examples: Maeve works at a day care center and must be certified in CPR. This is a basic requirement of the job, imposed by the state. Maeve can take any CPR class anywhere she wants, at any time. The employer is not required to pay her for this time spent training. If the employer scheduled a CPR class for all employees at a specific location and time, and attendance was mandatory, Maeve would be entitled to payment for attendance at that class.

Demetrius is a hotel front desk clerk. The hotel is switching over to a new software system called Delphi, and he must be trained in using it. Although Delphi is used at a number of hotels in the same chain, it is far from universal. Because the training is specific to the employer, Demetrius must be paid for this training. If he was attending training in a prgram shared by most companies, like Microsoft Office, and attendance was optional, Demetrius would not be entitled to payment for this time.

As you can see the federal regulations regarding when training is paid work time are fairly complex. Feel free to post additional details for a more specific answer about your situation. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia


April 16, 2011 at 8:22 am

Hi I just started this new job and i was just wounding if this is right or wrong in the state of Tenn. we take 10mins breaks that is all cool and kind of them. I understand that they do not have to do that but I would like to know this we do not clock out for lunch and we do get paid I believe we start work at 12:00am to 8:00am and we get a 20min to eat our meal is that legal to do that. What I have read up top on the blog we are aloud 30 min lunch breaks what is the law on this.



April 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Hi Phillip! You are correct that the Tennessee employer should be giving you a meal break of 30 minutes or more on a shift that is longer than 6 hours. There is no requirement that the employer must pay you for this meal break. It could be unpaid. In some cases, employees working under a union contract may make different break arrangements with the employer.

It is up to you whether you want to file an official compalint with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. If you do so, you can expect the employer to make meal breaks unpaid from now on. They may also eliminate the 10-minute rest break. It is illegal for an employer to regaliate against an employee who files an official complaint with a state agency, in good faith. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

John Harris

April 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm

When getting an unpaid lunch break is it mandator that u clock of before leaving the premises

John Harris

April 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Is it madatory that u clock out when going to lunch on an UNPAID lunch break. In TENNESSEF????


June 14, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Hi, i currently work for a franchise restaurant. The “owner” is constantly ,making people at my job take. Their breaks immediately after thy get there and has refused my own 30 minute lunch if I do not take it by 5 pm regardless that I had been there all day or even for just an hour, I strongly disagree with his policy that he claims is totally legit. Who do I contact to report him and can it be done with out recoil ?


June 15, 2014 at 8:34 am

We have good news and bad news, Kelsey. The good news is that (as you may know) Tennessee has a break law that requires employers to give each worker a 30 minute meal or rest break on each shift of 6 hours or longer. The bad news is that the employer also gets to dictate when employees take their breaks. When your manager tells you if you don’t take your break by 5 pm you will not receive one, that is unlawful. However, if he tells you to take your break before 5 pm, and you refuse, you can be disciplined or terminated for it.

We will add that simply disagreeing with a workplace policy does not protect you from the consequences if you disobey it. Unfortunately, many workplace policies are designed for the convenience of the employer, not the workers.


June 23, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Unfortunately Jenna, this is correct. Tennessee requires that an employee be given a 30 minute meal break when the employee is schedule a shift of 6 consecutive hours or more. Unfortunately, the law does not require 2 meal breaks on a 12-hour shift. So in your example, providing a single 30 minute meal break satisfies the legal requirement.

We will say that in this example, employees would be far more productive if they were either a) allowed to snack later in the day while on the clock or b) given an additional unpaid 30 minute break. The second alternative would also reduce the employer’s total payroll costs.


June 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm

So if someone is working a 12 hour shift, say 5:30 am to 5:30 pm and they are required to take their 30 min unpaid break at 7:00 am, by law, they do not have to be given another break the rest of their shift?

Joelle Platz

July 31, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Hello. I am a hairstylist working at a salon as a sub-licensed commission only stylist. I am not considered an employee and other than commission, have no compensation. I have been told that I am required to attend mandatory meetings and training for which I will not be paid. My understanding was that training could not be mandatory and unpaid. Could you please clear this up for me?


August 1, 2014 at 9:09 am

Joelle, this is a complex situation and you may want to consult an attorney. In general, training cannot be mandatory and unpaid…for an employee. However, many hairstylists are not employees, but are independent contractors who are basically running their own small business. In that case, it’s possible that you would not be entitled to payment for any training.


August 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Amelia, thank you for the response. That is essentially my situation. I am just an independent contractor making a percentage of my service sales. The big question is, can they legally force me to attend training I don’t want to attend on a day I normally would not be working. They are calling it mandatory and holding it when I would be working at my second job- requiring me to lose a day of work. I need to know if I can refuse to attend and have a legal basis for that decision.


August 1, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Joelle, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you can decline to attend. The bad news is that (unless you have a written contract that says otherwise) they can decide to end your independent contractor arrangement, effective immediately. There is no legal protection for independent contractors from being “fired” due to missing training. We hope your employer will see a way to work with you on this issue, but there is no law that requires them to.

October 19, 2014 at 11:44 am



October 21, 2014 at 3:29 pm

if i work 6 hrs and my employer wants us to clock out for 15 min.,then wouldn’t i actually only be working 5hrs 45min.i don’t smoke nor do i complain about it.but i do not see the point in clocking out for 15min any thoughts.thank you for any input


October 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Can ur company legally have a policy that says anyone that works 5 hours must take a break even if the tn law is six hours?


November 1, 2014 at 8:13 am

So I work 9:45-9:45 Wednesday with no break. That’s what brought me to this page. What can I do about this legally?


November 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm

My employer requires us to take an hour break. This hour break is to be taken even if we only work 3-4 hours basically because it cuts what they have to pay us. Recently hours were cut but the hour break still stands and is removed from our checks regardless of whether the break is taken or not. We are also not allowed to have access to what our hours total up to because it is all computerized with a swipe card. We are just issued a check with no questions to be asked.


November 15, 2014 at 10:35 am

This isn’t about breaks this is more about time between shifts. On a certain holiday I am scheduled to work 10pm-6am and then the next day come in at 9am and work until 6pm. That is 3 hours in between two 8 hour shifts!!! Is that legal? There is no time for sleep in between shifts at all and I have children to take care of between shifts.


November 24, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I just started to work at Honey Baked Ham and I work from 8am to 5pm with no break and one bottle of water and when you go to the restroom, your told to hurry back. I wanted to know if that’s against the law and can something can be done about that and how long will it take for a change to come?I leave

Syndi Boyd

November 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm

If a employee works for 6 or more hours how many breaks does the law require them to take?


November 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Hi, I’m working 8+ hour shifts, and not being given a 30 minute unpaid meal break. What can I do to put a stop to it?


December 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Sue Quendo, you are correct i worked for Roadrunner as well for aprox 5 months with no break or meal .

Question : I work for a Hotel and work for 8 hours straight one of the busy shifts 3-11 with no break or lunch. Is this
legal for Tennessee. I know as a hospitality worker / Front desk things are different .
When I first arrived we wrote in our time and still do.
I was told “they” didn’t pay for “if we were working past our shift”…aka shift change. Usually 5-10 mins nor paid prior to shift . But was told to arrive early. I argued that wasn’t legal now they pay me but are cutting my hours.
During my shift I am the ONLY employee on staff for a hotel of 81 rooms.

Jeff m

December 6, 2014 at 2:01 am

I work 12 hrs a day 7 days a week two weeks on and one week off. I get no breaks period because I’m a helper what ever the person above me wants me to do I have to do it so while they are sitting around doing nothing I’m having to do slave labor for example washing rusted pipes that all they are going to do is drill them into the ground or another example is one of the employees above me told me to get a broom and sweep the rain of the porch until he said stop which lasted the whole 12 hrs. I mean they pay good but its getting to the point where I don’t even want to go in anymore due to unfair treatment, the cussings,name callings and not getting any breaks at all. Can anybody help me and tell me what I can do

Kathy C

December 13, 2014 at 12:29 am

I am a front desk clerk that works 8 hours daily. I never receive a lunch break due to the fact that there is no one to relieve me. Even though we have some slow times, we are always required to be at the desk with phone in hand and ready to check in any guest that may walk in. Should I not be receiving some type of compensation for daily missed lunch breaks and other breaks due to me during that 8 hour day? How can I pursue this claim?’

Kelly i

December 13, 2014 at 12:46 am

If a full lime employee is given a raise and promotion with continued promise of 40 hours per week, is it legal for the employer to cut that employees hours by 8 to 16 hours per week simply because business has temporarily slowed down, and give a part time person with less seniority the hours taken away from the full time employee, with absolutely no notice to the full time senior employee?


January 13, 2015 at 10:22 am

If I am an exempt/salaried employee, an I still required to take a lunch break? I would rather work thru my schedule and skip lunch, especially if I have a doctor’s appt (rather than have to make up time). Can I do this? Or am I required to take a lunch break?


January 16, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Am I understanding the conversations correctly that we are not required to stay on premises for our 30 min. unpaid break? Our employer has just begun giving us a mandatory clock out for 30 min. during our 10.5 hour shifts, but we are required to stay in the building and clock back in immediately if needed for any reason. They began this one & a half weeks ago and I have yet to have a full 30 minutes because I am always clocking in to check in patients. Our headquarters are in another state and the owner of our company owns clinics in several states, but TN is the only one that requires this break.

Denise Monday

January 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Are Tennessee employers obligated to pay for “on call” time when I have to stay home next to my phone, without being able to pursue my personal interests in case I’m called in to work ??


February 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

What would be considered an “appropriate” rest period if not given a 30 min meal break? I work 10 1/2 hour shifts with the 1/2 supposed to be my lunch. Some times I am forced to take my break within the first hour due to short staff and the previous shift working overtime and leaving when I arrive or not get one at all.
I am a smoker. I work nights for a payday company and can not leave the building due to safety reasons.
Is this legal for me to not get a break or forces to take my 30 min meal as soon as I clock in?


February 14, 2015 at 11:47 am

I work at a roadrunner in blountville and i work 8 hour shifts. We are not allowed to take any breaks other than a smoke break every 3 hours and i have to be working while i smoke. However no lunch breaks at all and i just started this job and the put me on second shift alone and i havent even been at the job 30 days yet not completly trained. Is this fair are they allowed to do this?


March 2, 2015 at 4:53 pm

I work at a convenience store. We do not get meal breaks (or any breaks). We are not allowed to bring any food or drinks to work. We may eat, between customers and tasks, but only if the food and drinks are purchased from our employer. We are not allowed to sit down at any point during our shift, except to count register drawers at the start and finish of our shifts. Our shifts range from 7-11 hours.
Is this legal?


March 3, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Wow. I guess that is because TN is an at will state, they can do whatever they want to….including firing you for having a sandwich in your purse or car. I have a friend who was told by their employer that they could not leave the building even to run out to their car to check their phone for messages or get a jacket or whatever.


March 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm

I drive a delivery truck for a company in Tennessee and we do not ever have time to take a lunch break. However, my employer deducts 45 minutes every day from our paychecks. We can’t clock in and out for lunch and only grab a sandwich to eat in between deliveries while driving. We sometimes work from 7am until as late as 2am the next day. We are tired of the 4.5 hours per week being deducted from our paychecks even though we NEVER use an uninterrupted lunch break. We only stop two to three times per day to grab a drink and a snack from a gas station and work solid. Otherwise, we would never get home. Is it legal for them to deduct this time, and how can we get our money back?


April 18, 2015 at 3:22 am

If you work 8 hours or more a day I can only just have one 30 minute unpaid break

May 5, 2015 at 9:09 am

I have been. Working at hampton textile printing for two years. We work 10 hr shifts. The only lunch we are Given is a short 20 min lunch Or 30min if u want to clock out, yet any time someone clocks out our boss goes off. Is there anything I can do?


May 7, 2015 at 4:37 pm

As a salary manager if I work 10-12 hour shifts should I get a 30 min meal break?


May 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

120 people work here. 90 are on a production job. Everyone takes a paid 15 minute break at 9am and 2pm. Everyone is asked to punchout for lunch for an hour, 11-12. Some of the non-production folks don’t get to take those breaks or lunch times, but they break and eat when their duties allow. On a rare occaision they will work thru the unpaid lunch. Was the law written for the rare occaision? I am being hounded by HR to make them punchout and eat, but if they work 20 more minutes they will have 8 and be ready to go home.

I see the expection for folks that can break and eat when time allows, so I figured that covered this instance. Plus this is a RARE occaision and dictated by the current duties at hand. So lunch will be some time after 6 hours or there will be no lunch ON THIS DAY, not everyday!

Looking forward to your reply.


May 31, 2015 at 10:37 am

I work at a gas station but don’t seem to take breaks other then the 3mins I go out to smoke. Are laws being broken???


June 1, 2015 at 12:54 pm

If you work a 8 to a 10 hour shift do you have to take a lunch break if I don’t won’t a lunch break


June 5, 2015 at 11:28 pm

If you’re told to be working even 2 min before your break is over would that be a violation?

June 10, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I have a question if I’m scheduled for a 13 hour shift and I take a 30 minute unpaid break as long as it’s not in the first hour or the last hour of my shift I’m ok acording to Tennessee state law? Because my employer is saying that you cannot go over six hours before taking a break and if you work ten or more you have to take two 30 minute unpaid breaks or you get written up and suspended?? Is that the law?

June 11, 2015 at 3:52 pm

If I choose not to take my 30 min unpaid lunch break which is given, can I do so. Will my employer get penalized for my not taking my given break


June 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm

If a employer schedules me to work a 12 hour shift and I cannot take a break/rest break is that employer in violation?


June 20, 2015 at 8:29 pm

do these laws apply to convenience store workers? I am new to the industry in tn and I was told there are no break times. as a new manager I want to make sure so I do not violate state or federal law

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