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Massachusetts Employers Must Provide Meal Breaks

April 17, 2013

The common practice of working through lunch can result in a violation of the Massachusetts meal break law. Employers are required by law to allow any employee who works more than six hours a day an unpaid and unfettered meal break of at least thirty minutes. This law applies to exempt and non-exempt employees alike. It does not, however, apply to employees who work in certain industries, including the iron, glass, print, bleach, dye, paper and letterpress industries.

To qualify as a meal break, an employee must be unrestricted for a full thirty minutes. The employee must have the freedom to leave the workplace if he or she so desires and the employee must be entirely relieved from performing job duties during the break. Otherwise, the employer must compensate the employee for his or her time.

Employees can choose to waive this break, and to work through the allotted time-off, but the decision to do so must be voluntary. If an employee works through a break, either with or without the employer’s permission, then the break time becomes compensable. As a result, the employer will owe wages for all time worked by the employee, including the time originally set aside as a break, as well as any resulting overtime. To avoid liability, employers should establish, clearly communicate, and uniformly enforce a meal break policy.

For more information on this topic, please contact a member of the Employment Law Group.

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