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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62 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?

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