The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law which controls many aspects of wage and hour standards. However, it is silent with respect to rest breaks and meal periods. As such, there is no federal requirement that employers grant those breaks – instead, they are controlled entirely by state law.
New York’s requirements can be complex
New York Labor Law Section 162 sets forth the requirements for meal periods, beginning with factory workers, which it treats differently than others. Factory workers are entitled to a 60-minute meal period between 11am and 2pm. All other workers are entitled a 30-minute meal period between 11am and 2pm, so long as their shift is at least six hours long.
This is the most basic requirement but it gets more complicated from there. If an employee’s shift begins before 11am and extends beyond 7pm, that employee is entitled to a second meal period. The second meal period must be at least 20 minutes long and occur between 5pm and 7pm.
For employees who work shifts later in the day, the requirements change a bit. For shifts lasting at least six hours, and taking place between 1pm and 6pm, factory workers are once again entitled to a one-hour meal break. Other employees get a 45-minute meal break. Unlike the other provisions, this meal break does not include a specific time period in which it must take place. Instead, the statute provides that it must occur midway during the shift.
In some circumstances, a special permit may be granted to an employer under New York’s wage and hour laws, allowing them to shorten the meal periods mandated by the statute. However, if such a permit is granted, it must be conspicuously posted at the workplace so that employees are aware of its special nature.