Whether an employer permits its employees to have meal breaks and rest breaks is largely within the employer’s discretion. While some states, like California and New York, have strict requirements for employers to provide meal and rest breaks, New Jersey is not one of them.
Under New Jersey law, there is no requirement for an employer to provide a meal period or rest break to its adult employees age 18 or older. Instead, employers must adhere to the requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which also does not mandate a meal or rest break. Thus, in New Jersey, an adult employee does not have a legal right to breaks. New Jersey’s only requirement for a meal break applies to minor employees under age 18.
Here is a summary of what New Jersey law does and does not require:
Meal Breaks in New Jersey
Many employers voluntarily offer meal breaks so their workers can be comfortable, efficient, and productive. There is, however, no legal requirement to provide a workday meal break in New Jersey, except for employees age 17 or younger.
In New Jersey, until their 18th birthday, minor employees must be given at least a 30-minute uninterrupted break for every 5 hours of continuous work. Once they reach 18, adult employees are not legally entitled to any breaks under federal or state law. However, if an employer offers a meal break as part of its company policy, then it must adhere to federal requirements.
Federal law requires that employees be paid for all hours worked. If the employer offers a meal break of at least 30 minutes during which the employee is relieved of all job duties, then the employer does not have to compensate the employee during the meal break. However, if the employee is required to work through the designated “meal break” (for example, if a receptionist is required to answer the phone during lunch), then the employee must be paid.
Meal breaks must not be provided in a discriminatory manner. In other words, an employer cannot deny the meal break to a specific employee based on sex, race, disability, national origin, religion, age, or race.
The most common pitfall for employers is allowing some work to be performed during a meal break, which renders the break compensable. To avoid this, the employer may prohibit any kind of work during a meal break or may require employees to leave their workstations during the allotted meal breaks.
Rest Breaks in New Jersey
New Jersey employers are not legally required to offer rest breaks, except to minors. However, many employers do offer rest breaks as a matter of custom or policy. If the employer elects to provide a rest break, then federal law requires that the employer pay employees for short breaks of up to 20 minutes.
The FLSA requires employers to give nursing mothers a break to express milk, whenever they need to express milk, for one year after their child’s birth. Employers must provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is private, meaning “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,” where women may express milk. The law only applies to non-exempt employees (that is, those who are entitled to overtime pay for overtime work), and it exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees if it would be an undue hardship for the business to provide such breaks. These breaks do not need to be paid under the FLSA. However, where employers provide compensated breaks, a nursing mother must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.
Penalties for Violating FLSA Meal and Rest Break Requirements
Employers can refuse to allow breaks except for minors under age 18. However, if an employer provides a rest break or requires that work be performed during a designated meal break, then employees must be paid for the break. If not, then employees may file a wage and hour violation complaint to seek compensation for denied wages.
Where to Get More Information About New Jersey Labor Laws
For additional information about employer obligations under New Jersey labor laws, including posting requirements for wage and hour and other labor laws, check out our site dedicated to New Jersey labor law posting requirements.