Meals Breaks and Rest periods1

Many states have enacted laws that give employees the right to take short workday breaks, even though federal law does not require it. Like California and New York, Illinois has specific requirements for meal and rest breaks. This law is commonly called the “One Day Rest in Seven Act” in Illinois.  

 

Here is a summary of the Illinois requirements:

 

Meal Breaks in Illinois

 

Illinois law requires meal breaks in certain circumstances and excludes employees whose meal periods are established by collective bargaining agreements.

 

Employees are entitled to at least a 20-minute meal break for every continuous shift of 7.5 (or more) continuous hours. The meal should be scheduled sometime within the first five hours of the workday. Note that this requirement applies to each continuous shift of 7.5 hours; thus, if an employee works one continuous shift of 15 hours, then the employer must schedule two 20-minute meal breaks. Unless employees are required to work during the meal break, these meal breaks may be unpaid.

 

There are two instances under Illinois law when a worker must be given a longer lunch break: One is for hotel room attendants, defined as those who “clean or put guest rooms in order in a hotel or other establishment licensed for transient occupancy” in a county with a population of more than 3 million; and the other is for minors. Hotel room attendants must receive a longer, 30-minute meal break during each 7-hour workday shift. Minor employees under the age of 16 must be given at least a 30-minute meal break if the employee is scheduled to work more than 5 consecutive hours. 

 

There are two special provisions for certain on-call employees who must be allowed to eat a meal during the 8-hour work period. These include employees who monitor individuals with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses and who are required to be on-call during an entire 8-hour work period, as well as employees who are licensed under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act and are required to be on-call during an entire 8-hour work period. 

 

By state law, there are additional requirements regarding employee breaks. Employers must provide a break area with adequate seating and tables in a clean and comfortable environment. They must also provide free clean drinking water. Additionally, Illinois law imposes a recordkeeping requirement that mandates employers to keep complete and accurate records of all break periods.

 

Rest Breaks in Illinois

 

With one exception, now Illinois labor law requires employers to give any breaks beyond the 20-minute meal period. The exception is for hotel room attendants in a county with a population of more than 3 million, who must receive a minimum of two 15-minute paid rest breaks during each continuous 7-hour workday shift. Hotel room attendants must not work during a break period.

 

Although employers are not legally obligated to give breaks, if they opt to provide such rest breaks, the federal rule applies. This means that employees must be paid during short breaks of less than 20 minutes.

 

Further Requirements for Vulnerable Workers

The Illinois Human Rights Act mandates legal protections for vulnerable workers, such as pregnant employees or those affected by medical or common conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. These workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform basic work functions, which may include longer breaks or rest periods. Additionally, the Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act requires all employers with more than five employees to provide reasonable paid break time for employees who need to express breast milk. 

 

Penalties for Violating Meal and Rest Break Laws

If an employer violates the rest break laws regarding meal and rest periods for hotel room attendants, then the employer must pay three times the regular hourly rate for each workday when the breaks were not given.

 

Where to Get More Information About Illinois Labor Laws

For additional information about employer obligations under Illinois labor laws, including posting requirements for wage and hour and other labor laws, check out our site dedicated to Illinois labor law posting requirements.