OSHA Break Requirements

Three businesswomen on the coffee break in the office
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not administer labor laws with respect to employee breaks or meal periods. Even the federal government does not require employers to provide breaks to workers. Instead, states administer laws for lunch and rest breaks. OSHA does recommend that employers provide extra breaks or meal periods for extended 12-hour shifts, but it does not legally require the employer to do so.

What OSHA Does

OSHA ensures a safe and healthy work environment for workers by administering these standards in the workplace. It establishes the requirements that employers and businesses must follow to keep employees out of danger at work. This includes the requirements for safety equipment, equipment and safety training, hazardous chemical use advisories and material data safety sheet availability to workers. OSHA also provides the standards for personal protection equipment and training, noise and hazards exposure and more. Employers found in violation of its safety and health standards can be fined by the OSHA.

Restroom Breaks

While OSHA does not mention restroom break requirements, it does set the standards for the restroom sanitation levels employers and businesses must maintain in the workplace. Employers are required by law to provide separate bathroom facilities for both sexes in the work environment. Workers must have access to restroom facilities when they need them, and businesses cannot regulate an employee’s use of these facilities.

Meal Breaks

Even the U.S. Department of Labor, of which OSHA is a part, doesn’t cite requirements for lunch and meal breaks. Individual states set these standards. But fewer than half of the states in the U.S. make meal breaks for employees a legal requirement. In the states that do require lunch and meal breaks based on the hours worked in a day, employees who work at least five or six hours must have a meal break -- but it cannot be at the end of the shift. State laws do not require that you be paid for your meal break.

Rest Breaks

As of this publication, states that require employers to provide employee rest breaks include Washington, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada and Oregon. Minnesota and Vermont only require that employers provide rest breaks so that employees may use toilet facilities. Employees who work in the states that do require rest breaks are entitled to a 10-minute paid break for every four hours of work. Some states allow businesses to let employees choose between a meal or rest break. The rules are different for minors, and vary by state.

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