The right to a lunch period or simply a water break might be a given for many workers, but that right is not a matter of law for employees in Michigan. The state's labor code mandates certain provisions regarding wages and hours, along with child labor, but is silent on the subject of breaks.
When laws are silent on an issue, as Michigan labor laws are regarding breaks, employers may set any policy of their choosing as long as they apply the policy fairly and without discrimination. Thus, in Michigan, employers do not have to provide breaks as long as they do not allow only some employees to take breaks. Minors, defined as employees under 18 years of age, must receive a 30-minute break if they work at least five continuous hours.
By law, employers in Michigan and all other states must provide nursing breaks to working mothers with newborns and infants under age 1. This requirement became law in 2010 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal employment statute. A nursing mother must have reasonable break time as often as needed, as well as a private room for nursing the child. The law grants an exemption to employers with fewer than 50 employees if they would face "an undue hardship" by complying. A regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prohibits employers from altogether restricting employees' access to bathroom facilities, although the employer may impose some restrictions based on the nature of the work.
Federal laws, like Michigan state laws, make it optional for employers to offer breaks. But the Fair Labor Standards Act imposes requirements regarding compensation when employers provide breaks. If the break is a rest period, lasting not more than 20 minutes, employees should continue to receive wages at their normal rate. For breaks that are legitimate meal periods, lasting at least 30 minutes, employers may consider employees off the clock. Employers must pay employees for their time, however, when compelling them to work during a meal break.
Breaks might seem like a standard right of employees because many employers offer them for the sake of keeping employees mentally and physically fresh and alert. In addition, collective bargaining agreements between employers and labor unions often include break provisions. But as a matter of law, breaks are far from universal in the United States. Only a minority of states, about 20 in all, have meal break laws, generally requiring 30-minute breaks for employees who work full shifts. None of Michigan's neighboring states--Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio--has meal break laws.