Nonexempt employees subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act must be compensated for time worked. Employers are not required under federal law to offer employees lunch or coffee breaks. When employers do offer short breaks such as coffee breaks (lasting 5 to 20 minutes) these breaks are treated as actual working hours. An employee who takes time in excess of the authorized work break does not have to be paid for the overage, assuming the employer has communicated that the break may last only for a specific length of time.
Breaks for meals are treated differently. Bona fide meal periods (lasting at least 30 minutes) are not the same as snack or coffee breaks and are not required to be paid. States regulate the amount of time an employee has to be allowed for a meal period break and the frequency of such break. Click here for a listing of the minimum length of meal period required under state law for adult employees in the private sector.