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

Angela

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?

Amelia

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

Chris

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?

Amelia

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

Phillip

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.

Thanks

Amelia

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????

Kelsey

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 ?

Amelia

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.

Amelia

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.

jenna

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?

Amelia

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.

Joelle

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.

Amelia

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

I STARTED A JOB IN ERWIN , TN . AT MY INTERVIEW I WAS TOLD NO BREAKS AND THAT I WOULD BE WORKING
7AM TO 3PM , 8 HOURS. IN MY MIND NO BREAKS WAS NO 10 OR 15 MINUTE BREAK. AT NOON I ASKED WHAT
TIME IS MY LUNCH BREAK? I WAS TOLD NO BREAKS MEANS NO LUNCH BREAK EITHER. I DID NOT RETURN TO
THIS JOB. WHAT CAN I DO TO REPORT THIS I KNOW IS IT UNLAWFUL TO WORK EMPLOYEE 8 HOUR SHIFTS WITH
NO 30 MINUTE LUNCH BREAK. THIS IS ROADRUNNER MARKETS DOING THIS TO ALLL EMPLOYEES.IT MUST STOP!!!

dawn

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

Ronne

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?

Val

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?

heather

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.

holly

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.

Rossi

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?

Frankie

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?

Nina

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?

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