Does an Employer Need to Pay for Work Breaks?

Nathan Eisenberg

Wisconsin’s regulations recommend that each employer allow each employee, 18 years of age or over, at least 30 minutes for each meal period reasonably close to the usual meal period time (6:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 6:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight) or near the middle of a shift. The regulations indicate that shifts of more than 6 consecutive hours without a meal period should be avoided. Breaks for employees under 18 years of age are mandatory.

An employer must pay all employees for “on duty” meal periods. Such periods are to be counted as work time. An “on duty” meal period is one where the employer does not provide at least 30 minutes free from work. Any meal period where the employee is not free to leave the premises of the employer will also be considered an “on duty” meal period. Authorized rest periods or breaks of less than 30 consecutive minutes per shift are counted as work time and are considered paid work time.

When employees are represented by a union and a collective bargaining agreement exists, labor and management can seek a waiver from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Absent a waiver from the State, a collective bargaining agreement which provides for unpaid breaks of less than 30 minutes is unenforceable. Workers are entitled to collect wages for breaks that violate state law, even if a collective bargaining agreement states otherwise.