Are Virginia employers required to provide employees with rest periods and meal breaks? Contrary to popular belief, the answer is “No”. Although most employers voluntarily provide their full-time employees meal breaks and rest periods, neither Virginia nor federal law requires them. One exception is Virginia’s child labor law, which prohibits an employer from requiring or permitting a child under 16 years of age to work for more than five hours continuously without a lunch period of at least 30 minutes.
Federal law also does not mandate meal or rest breaks, but if an employer offers those breaks, regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act address whether the breaks must be considered as hours worked. Breaks which are 20 minutes or less are counted as hours worked for which the employee must be paid, and must be counted for overtime calculation purposes. Meal periods of at least 30 minutes are not counted as hours worked and pay for that time is not required. However, in order for the break to be counted as a true meal period, the employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating a regular meal. The employee is not considered as relieved if they are required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating.
The relatively new state and federal laws concerning break times for nursing mothers are another exception to the rules about breaks. Both Virginia and federal law require employers to allow reasonable breaks for a nursing mother to express breast milk. The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires most employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space for lactating employees to pump breast milk during the work day. A new federal law, the “PUMP Act”, expands the protections of the original law to cover almost all employees. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are covered by the law, but may be excused from complying if the compliance would impose an “undue hardship”.
Employers should make their rules about breaks clear, preferably in an employee handbook.
John Falcone and Luke Malloy handle employment law matters at PLDR Law. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about this matter.