Employee rights are a matter of both federal and state laws. If both regulate a matter, as is the case with minimum wage laws, federal law prevails. The federal government does not regulate the rest breaks and lunch breaks an employer must provide to employees, nor does the state of Michigan have laws requiring break periods for adult employees. Since neither regulates an issue, the matter is left to the employer.
Federal and State Labor Laws
Labor law is a general term that includes almost every aspect of an employee's work life, from the minimum hourly wage they must be paid to lunch and work breaks. However, the federal government does not regulate all areas of employment law. Those matters that it does not regulate, like mandatory rest breaks and lunch breaks an employer must allow employees, are left to the states.
In Michigan, employee rights are set out in the state's labor code. If neither the federal laws nor Michigan laws regulate an issue, the matter is left to the employer's discretion. The employer is not permitted, however, to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity or any other legally protected status.
Michigan and Minimum Wage Law
Minimum wage is regulated by federal law, but all states, including Michigan, have their own minimum wage laws. In recent years, cities and counties have also enacted minimum wages that apply within their boundaries. Federal law provides that the employee is entitled to whichever minimum wage rate – federal, state, city or county – is the highest.
The federal government has not raised its minimum wage for decades, and many locations have a minimum wage that is higher. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which is less than half of the minimum wage in some areas. Michigan has a minimum wage that is above the federal wage, meaning that a Michigan employee is entitled to the state minimum wage.
As of January 2021, the minimum wage in Michigan is set at $9.65 per hour. The rate was on track to increase for 2021 to $9.87 per hour, but that did not happen. The Michigan minimum wage law specifies that a minimum wage increase will not take effect if Michigan's unemployment rate for the prior year exceeded 8.5 percent, which occurred in 2020.
Lunch and Work-Break Laws
The federal government does not mandate lunch and work breaks for employees. There is no federal law that requires employers to allow employees to take breaks to eat or to relax. Michigan does not mandate lunch breaks or work breaks for most adult workers, although employees under 18 years of age must be given a 30-minute rest period if working a shift of more than five hours.
That means that the issue of lunch and work breaks for adult employees is left entirely to the discretion of Michigan employers. An employer can opt to provide lunch breaks for workers or can decide not to do so. But it is not legal for an employer to discriminate by granting lunch breaks, for example, to male employees but not to female employees, or vice versa.
Contrast this with a state like California, for example, where employees must get a 30-minute meal break after five hours in a shift, and a second 30-minute meal break in a 10-hour shift. Employees also have the right to 10 minutes of rest break for every four consecutive hours of work time.
Paid and Unpaid Breaks
While federal law does not mandate that employers offer breaks to employees, it does regulate any breaks that are provided. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, rest breaks lasting up to 20 minutes are not "off the clock." That is, the employee can include that time in the hours they worked that shift and seek payment for it at their usual hourly rate. Breaks for meal periods lasting at least 30 minutes, however, are "off the clock." Employers need not pay for that time unless they require the employee to work during their meal break.
Nursing Breaks for Mothers
A 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires a break for employees who are nursing mothers. Employers in all states, including Michigan, are bound by this mandate. It applies to working mothers with newborns and infants under one year of age.
The nursing mother is entitled to reasonable break time, which she can take as often as is reasonably necessary. She is also entitled to the use of a private room for breastfeeding the child or expressing milk. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempted from these requirements if they can show that they would face undue hardship by complying.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.