While federal law has no requirements regarding rest breaks and meal breaks for workers, New York state mandates lunch periods for employees. Labor Law Section 162 dictates meal period regulations for workers in New York state.
Employees must work a certain number of hours to have half-hour or full-hour meal periods. In some instances, if the employee is the only person on site they will be paid for time worked while eating their lunch. While New York state labor law regulates meal breaks, it does not require employers to give employees rest breaks.
New York’s Meal Break Law
Federal law doesn’t require businesses to provide meal break time. However, New York state private and public sector businesses and their employees are covered by New York Labor Law Section 162, which contains different meal break requirements for factory and non-factory workers.
The employment law defines a factory as a mill, a workshop, or other manufacturing establishment. It covers all structures such as buildings, sheds and other locations used in connection with a factory. Ship repair dry dock plants, power houses, generating plants and other structures operated or owned by public service corporations are not considered factories.
Any worker employed in a factory or whose primary duties involve its operation and maintenance is considered a factory worker and is covered by this labor law.
NY State-mandated Meal Times
According to the law, certain time periods are required for worker lunch breaks:
- Factory workers have the right to a one-hour lunch break period between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and a one-hour lunch period in the middle of a shift, if it is at least six hours long and starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m.
- Non-factory workers have the right to a half-hour lunch period between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for shifts that last at least six hours and extend over that time period. They have the right to a 45-minute meal period in the middle of a shift if it is more than six hours long and starts between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m.
All workers in the state have the right to an extra 20-minute break between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and on workdays starting before 11 a.m. and ending after 7 p.m. Shorter breaks are permitted upon a New York employer's application to the state labor commissioner.
Working Through Meal Breaks
Meal periods that meet these legal requirements are not counted as hours worked, so workers are not paid for that time. However, when there is only one person on the job, they can sometimes eat lunch on the job and be paid. This is known as the “one-employee shift” exception.
The New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) considers this an exception under Section 162 if the worker voluntarily consents to these arrangements. However, the business must afford an uninterrupted meal break to every worker who requests it before consenting to the arrangement.
Brown bag lunches are permissible when workers eat their meals while listening to a presentation or a speaker, whose topics may or may not be work-related. If the business requires employees to attend a working brown bag lunch, it must count as time worked. Workers who voluntarily choose to attend will receive a meal-period break.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.